Just minutes from the heart of Victoria’s capital, Melbourne Park is one of the great tennis complexes. For a fortnight in January, it will be the centre of the tennis world as the home of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open.
For Melburnians the Open is more than just a tennis tournament. The grounds throb with life and with the relaxed summer holiday vibe that comes between Christmas and Australia Day on 26 January; night matches pause as celebratory fireworks light the skies over the city.
This year will be no different, except for one thing. To enter Melbourne Park, patrons, staff, media and almost all players will have to be double-vaccinated against Covid-19. Furthermore, they must show physical proof of their vaccination status, which for Australians is a government-issued certificate downloaded on to their mobile phones.
The message from the organisers, and from the state government of Victoria, is blunt: no certificate, no entry.
These regulations come after Victoria, and especially Melbourne, has endured one of the harshest Covid regimes in the world under the state’s premier Daniel Andrews. What we have contended with for nearly two years, in the name of a now discredited ‘Covid zero’ strategy, includes almost 300 days of lockdown since March 2020. There have been police-enforced curfews, residents have been prohibited from travelling more than five kilometres from their home, and playgrounds have been shut to stop parents gathering to do that most dangerous and deadly act: have a coffee and chat while their children play.
This context explains why Australians are so disgusted by Novak Djokovic’s unspecified ‘medical exemption’ to play in the Australian Open. It makes it clear why so many Aussies approve of the decision to revoke his entry visa – because the world number one allegedly could not, or would not, show that he had a valid medical reason to be exempted from Australia’s border rules.