Is anyone else alarmed by the widespread glee at the way Novak Djokovic has been treated by the Aussies? The world's top tennis player is in an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne, fighting to avoid being deported. Djokovic, who was granted a medical exemption to defend his title in the Australian Open, somehow snuck into the country with a bunch of tennis racquets before he was intercepted by the Australian authorities.
The media is labelling Djokovic’s case as yet another example of ‘rules for thee and not for me’. But it isn't, because he hasn’t formulated any of the arbitrary and draconian Covid diktats imposed on the rest of us. Djokovic’s only crime was to adopt a ‘keep calm and carry on playing tennis’ response to the pandemic. He organised the Adria Tour in 2020 which was abandoned after he and a number of other top players tested positive. And this week, he flew to Australia to defend his title in a tournament he has won nine times. What's wrong with that?
Djokovic has all sorts of strange beliefs regarding his health. Before a Covid vaccine was devised, he stated he was ‘opposed to vaccination’ and wanted the ‘option to choose what’s best for my body.’ Pre-pandemic, ‘my body, my choice’ was a liberal mantra not just accepted but celebrated as a crucial right. If medical interventions designed to prevent the birth of humans can be respected by society you would think the right of humans to refuse medical interventions designed to prevent their deaths would be fine too.
Whatever you think of Djokovic's views, considering he’s won 17 Grand Slam titles – and seems poised to overtake Roger Federer (who is suffering from a knee injury) and Rafael Nadal (whose own appearance in Australia was in doubt because he recently caught Covid, despite being double vaccinated) – you might think he’s earned the right to them. Having grown up in war-torn Belgrade where he practised in a disused swimming pool, Djokovic eats a plant-based diet, rises before dawn and does hugging and singing exercises with his family. After winning the Australian Open a few years back, he went straight to Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens because ‘I have a friend there, a Brazilian fig tree, that I like to climb and I like to connect with’.
And whether Djokovic has changed his mind about vaccines or not, we might speculate that since Djokovic was infected with Covid in 2020 he could well have antibodies and poses next to no danger to Australians. But that would be like imagining this unseemly row has anything to do with disease control.
If Djokovic had been detained in China, one suspects the international community would be in uproar. Everyone is very concerned about Peng Shuai who has expressed views which angered her country's government. But Djokovic’s dilemma is going on in the free West, so only his fellow Serbians are expressing any sort of solidarity with him.
Whether ordinary Australians want medical exemptions because they have had Covid or have had previous adverse reactions to vaccines, or religious exemptions because of God, or political exemptions on the grounds of reading 1984, in a free country they should be free to get them. Whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, many people worldwide who couldn’t care less about tennis will be muttering ‘come on my son!’ while biting their fingernails and hoping Djokovic makes it through to the next round for freedom.