By: Alejandra Zaragoza
Novak Djokovic, or NoVax as the internet has named him, has won the last three Australian Open men’s singles championships, and overall, nine in his career. Last year he was close to obtaining a “calendar slam” or “the grand slam”, meaning winning all four major championships in a year. But that has not let him escape from controversy after controversy recently: from believing in dodgy science; criticizing player Naomi Osaka for rejecting doing press conferences for mental health reasons, stating it was part of the sport and what they have to do; and, most notably for the case at hand, his questionable practices regarding COVID-19, from holding a tournament amid the pandemic in 2020, after professional tennis shut down, where a couple of players went on to reveal positive tests after partying and embracing each other, and of course, his denial to get the vaccine.
On the 4th of January 2022, Djokovic posted on his Instagram that he would be participating in the Australian Open, after much speculation, considering he received a medical exemption for the fully vaccination requirement to participate in the tournament. Such consideration for an exception came based on a recent coronavirus infection.
At that moment, the Australian government required all visa holding individuals to be fully vaccinated to enter the frontier-closed down country (1) , contrary to a medical exemption accepted by the government of Victoria (the state where the tournament is being held).
On the 6th of January, the world’s number 1 tennis player, Novak Djokovic, was initially denied entry into Australian territory after his medical exemption for being non-vaccinated was deemed not valid by Australian government officials.
On the 10th of January, a hearing was held for an appeal against the Minister of Home Affairs by the player, resulting in a decision to release Djokovic from detention and let him stay in the country, considering an unfair treatment and procedural failures at the airport (2).
Soon after, questions arose regarding the truthfulness of Djokovic’s team statements regarding the date of covid diagnosis and travel before entering Australia.
Considering the aforementioned, Australia’s immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, cancelled Djokovic’s visa for a second time on the 14th of January based on the grounds of health and good order as well as public interest. Djokovic’s lawyer appealed such cancellation.
Djokovic’s team argued that Mr Hawke would incite more anti-vax sentiment in Australia. Still, the panel of judges deemed it impossible to prove that the Minister had failed to consider sentiments that could arise from his decision. Finally, on the 16th of January, a Federal Court denied the appeal to overturn the player’s second visa cancellation (3) ,and Djokovic promptly left the country.
After this saga, the questions that arise are: will he play in Roland Garros? And, overall, will this chapter tarnish his legacy?
Considering France's new vaccine pass law, the French Sports Minister, Roxana Maracineanu, declared that the vaccine pass would be imposed on all spectators and professional athletes for Roland Garros. This requires individuals to have a certificate of vaccination to enter public places. Meaning, if he gets vaccinated or the COVID-19 situation changes for May, he will not be permitted to play. No exemptions, as the Minister said. (4)
As far as his legacy is concerned, Novak was in a battle to obtain his 21st Grand Slam Title, after a historic triple tie for the crown between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and himself. Of course, this road will be more challenging for him now, considering that Rafael Nadal will compete in the Australian Open, and although many players could stop him in the way, a title contender has left the Open.
Furthermore, I believe that this event will tarnish his legacy and already has. I was a strong supporter of Djokovic, as were many fanatics of the sport, but in recent years his antics have made it harder and harder to still stand behind him. Much has been said about separating an athlete from his views, but I think there’s a line that’s been crossed.
We know why he’s not vaccinated; he simply doesn’t want to. But science, medicine, and a sense of togetherness must prevail in a world ravaged by the pandemic and its variants. And if Djokovic is part of the only three players from the top 100 (5) not vaccinated that can’t participate in the sport, so be it. Nobody is above the law or regulations, not even the number 1 in the world.
By: Alejandra Zaragoza
Author Profile: Law Graduate from the Universidad Iberoamericana CDMX. Master in International Sports Law from the Real Madrid UE University School. Current student of the Masters in Business and Football Management by the Johan Cruyff Institute.
The opinions expressed in this document are those of the author and do not
necessarily reflect the views of aikó sports law.
(2) https://fedcourt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/95058/Order-Djokovic-v-Minister-MLG35-of- 2022_10-January-2022-003.pdf
(3) Please note that Chief Justice James Allsop declared that the ruling was not a reflection or agreement on the validity of the decision from Mr. Hawke but of his decision-making process. Further reading: https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/01/15/sports/djokovic-australia#ultimately- djokovic-lost-to-a-government-determined-to-make-an-example-of-him
(4) https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/no-vaccine-no-french-open-djokovic-says-french-sports- ministry-2022-01-17/
(5) 97 percent of the Top 100 players are vaccinated leading into this year’s Australian Open, that number was previously 48% as of the 8th of October 2021. Further reading: https://www.si.com/tennis/2022/01/14/atp-mens-top-100-covid-19-vaccination-rate-novak-djokovic- australian-open