The unhinged fury levelled at Novak Djokovic has revealed a dark undercurrent to Australia’s Covid narrative.
As the ATP world number one men’s tennis player and holder of a record nine Australian Open singles titles, the Victorian government was desperate to secure his participation in the 2022 Australian Open. After all, it’s not much of a competition if the defending champion is a no-show.
The problem? Novak has been a vocal opponent of Australia’s vaccine passport system. He has repeatedly declined to disclose his vaccination status despite the Victorian government requiring all tennis players to be fully vaccinated. When pressed, Novak’s father insisted that the star would withdraw from the Australian Open rather than adhere to the mandate.
‘Things being as they are, I still don’t know if I will go to Melbourne. I will not reveal my status whether I have been vaccinated or not, it is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry. People go too far these days in taking the liberty to ask questions and judge a person,’ said Novak.
Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia, confirmed that the only way a player could compete without proof of vaccination was if they received a medical exemption – something which an independent ‘blind’ panel has now issued to Novak.
‘There is an independent panel of medical specialists, and they see a blind copy of the medical exemption request. That goes to that expert panel, and they will make the call,’ confirmed Tiley, in an earlier interview. ‘No benefit is provided to them under any condition.’
In the months leading up to the Australian Open, Novak showed no sign of bending to the demands of the Victorian government or Tennis Australia. While Tiley makes it clear that great lengths are taken to make sure that the medical exemption application is a blind test, less than five per cent of players are unvaccinated.
It would have been embarrassing for Tennis Australia to host the tournament without Novak and doing so risked painting Australia as some raving mad penal colony living out a Covid-Zero fantasy. While the economics of this decision constitutes an exercise in hypocrisy, at least it makes sense.
Less rational is the social media outrage from Victorians upon hearing the announcement.
Instead of directing their anger at Daniel Andrews and his hated pandemic health orders – or even at the Labor government’s favouritism for bankable celebrities – plenty of Victorians are furious with Novak instead.
‘I hope Novak contracts Covid again down here and can’t even play in the AO I damn said it. What an INSULT to everyone in Melbourne – in Australia – to let this guy in on an exemption,’ said one user.
‘As a double-vaxxed person who can’t go to Melbourne, less because of my arm and more because of Covid, I’d just like to say how lovely to hear that Novak Djokovic has got himself an excellent rich-person exemption. F**k. Me. Dead,’ added another, whose Twitter bio lists them as a former ABC journalist.
‘What a rot. Watch everyone dodge the responsibility for him somehow getting an exemption,’ said Jon Ralph, sports reporter with the Herald Sun.
And on and on it goes – with half of social media shaking their masks at Daniel Andrews, and the other sitting back in tears of laughter at the government’s brazen inconsistency.
The Victorian story has become about doggedly ‘doing the right thing’ rather than following the science. It has left Melbourne spiralling into a cult-like, witch-hunting spasm where the ‘it’s for your health’ crowd routinely express a desire to see other people get sick in order to validate their life choices.
At this point, Australia needs to stop and examine the mental state of citizens. Politicians and health officials have spent years standing at the microphone creating a social landscape with the heavy brushstrokes of fear and power.
The commentary on Novak shows us that it’s not a pretty picture.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.