For 48 hours, Australia has been living to the rhythm of the “Djokovic affair”. The announcement of a medical exemption granted to the Serbian tennis player for the Melbourne Open (January 17-30), then that of the cancellation of his visa by the authorities after being blocked for hours at the airport, fueled the debates in the Oceania country. In any case, his possible expulsion from Australia does not move the locals.
The press as well as the public opinion were up against the coming of the Serbian champion, however nine times winner of the Open of Australia. In the space of a few hours, the world number 1 has become “persona non grata” in the land of kangaroos. His refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, and the fact of having visibly benefited from a privilege from the State of Victoria, which hosts the tournament, and the Australian Tennis Federation have made leap the population.
Strong restrictions for two years
It must be said that Australians have had to endure some of the longest periods of confinement in the world. The government of the country has for a very long time relied on a “zero-Covid” strategy and has not hesitated for a long time to reconfine its compatriots at the slightest jolt of the pandemic. A strategy undermined by the arrival of the Delta and Omicron variants. More than 21,000 cases have been reported in the state of Victoria, which hosts the Australian Open, in the past 24 hours.
“Few countries have adopted an approach as strict, if not extreme, in their management of the Covid as Australia”, declared in October Tim Soutphommasane, academic and former Australian commissioner for the Discrimination. In total, Melbourne experienced 262 days of confinement, a world record. The Australian Open was also held under very strict conditions in 2021, with a quarantine imposed on all players in contact with their arrival in the country. The public had been present sparingly as the health situation evolved.
The vaccine has since arrived and the population, 91.5% vaccinated (for 16 years and over), is sensitive to those who have not received their injections. “Some people could not even have an exemption to visit sick family members who lived in another state and he has the right to enter the country”, protested a resident in The team.
A feeling shared mainly in the country, up to the medical community. Stephen Parnis, eminent doctor in the country, was also offended by the arrival of Novak Djokovic to defend his title. “I don’t care if he’s a good tennis player. If he refuses to be vaccinated, he should not be allowed in. If this exemption is true, it sends a distressing message to the millions of people who seek to reduce the risk of Covid-19 in Australia for themselves and for others, ”he posted on Twitter.
There was total misunderstanding in the press as well. Australian daily The Courier Mail did not hesitate to play with words and rebelled “You must be Djoking” (“you must be joking) on the front page of his edition of Wednesday January 5 about the arrival of the one he nicknamed” No -vax ”. The former tennis player Sam Groth (53rd in the world in 2015) expressed the dissatisfaction of the inhabitants by declaring that “the medical exemption of Novak Djokovic spits in the face of all Australians”.
A case that has become political
The gaming community has not been much moved by the Serbian’s ubiquitous situation since his first steps on Australian soil. In particular his great Spanish rival, Rafael Nadal. “Everyone is free to make their own decisions, but there are consequences. On the one hand, I’m sorry for him. But he knew the conditions, ”said the former world number 1.
The case has grown so much that it has seen the federal government oppose Victoria’s decision to allow Novak Djokovic to come to Australia. A rather rare measure that testifies to the political dimension of the case in the country. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, anxious to ensure his popularity and listen to his people, took up the subject and said the champion was not “above the rules”.
“For the Australian Federal Government border control is a key issue, while Victoria wants to ensure that a successful tournament can be organized. Usually, these two objectives do not intersect, ”summarizes Matthew Wrigley, lawyer from Melbourne, on the site of The team. But Novak Djokovic has long been a character that divides.