The World Owes Novak Djokovic An Apology

Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open

As is now well-known, World No. 1 Novak Djoković had his Australian visa cancelled upon arrival and is in danger of missing the 2022 Australian Open in Melbourne. The reasoning seemed simple–Djoković had failed to provide a valid medical exemption to Victoria’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements. And yet, what started off as a simple travel document mix-up evolved into an ongoing diplomatic dispute between Belgrade and Canberra, as well as a publicized detainment of a world-famous athlete. On the internet, thousands upon thousands of social media posts and articles with flashy headlines made the rounds. Here’s why everyone from the Australian government to acclaimed journalists to troll commenters on Twitter owes Novak Djoković an apology.

Novak Djoković’s Australian Open Scandal

The Facts

Here’s what we know happened:

  • Novak Djoković was granted a medical exemption to compete in the 2022 Australian Open on Monday.
  • Djoković traveled from Dubai to Melbourne on Tuesday.
  • The World No. 1 arrived in Melbourne around 11:30pm on Tuesday.
  • He was denied entry into Australia at Tullamarine Airport.
  • He spent ten hours overnight in an interrogation room, answering questions from Border Force officers on the validity of his exemption.
  • The Serb allegedly had no access to a mobile phone for several hours*.
  • Once he had his phone returned, Djoković talked to President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia, who promised to “fight” for him.
  • Australia’s federal government cancelled Djoković’s visa at around 9am on Wednesday morning.
  • Australian police directed Djoković to a quarantine room at the Park Hotel. The government said it would remove him from the country on Thursday
  • Djoković’s lawyers immediately filed an injunction to reverse the deportation decision.
  • Djoković remains in Melbourne through the early hours of Friday.
  • A court hearing is scheduled for Monday.

*This was reported by Djokovic’s team. The Australian Border Force disputes this.

Hypocrisy of Australian Government

The federal government of Australia has received heaps of praise from Aussies and tennis fans for its refusal to allow unvaccinated people into the country. What many fail to notice is that the Australian government had previously approved Djoković’s application for a medical exemption and were prepared to allow the tennis player  to enter Australia.

According to an official statement from the Australian Open, Djoković received a medical exemption “following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.” One of the two panels referred to in the statement is appointed by the Victorian Department of Health, a government institution.

Several media outlets claim that the Australian government’s decision had to do with a misfiled visa application, rather than with the exemption itself. And yet, Djoković did not have a chance to file the proper visa application in the ten hours he spent at the airport. Instead, Border Force officials questioned the Serb about the basis for his exemption, which their own government had previously approved.

The entire airport incident was a total farce from the Australian government. They should be held accountable for their hypocrisy.

Improper Treatment of Detainee

As noted earlier, Djoković spent 10 hours in an airport interrogation room. He couldn’t use his phone for several of those 10 hours, per Serbian journalist Saša Ozmo. This is in and of itself a violation of basic human rights. Djoković is not a criminal. In fact, he took all the necessary steps to be allowed entry into Australia.

After releasing him, government officials took Djoković to the Park Hotel for quarantine. The once-upscale hotel is now home to dozens of refugees and asylum seekers. Many have complained of awful conditions within the detention facility. Among the complaints are reports of refugees finding maggots in the food provided to them. To subject Djoković, or anybody for that matter, to those conditions is thoroughly inhumane.

Biased Media Coverage

Djoković has never been one to shy away from the limelight. In recent years, he has become embroiled in a number of controversies, both on the tennis court and away from it. As a result, some Western media outlets have developed a strong anti-Djokovic bias, one they’ve maintained over the last few days. Here are a few examples.

American news outlet NBC News published an article on the scandal titled “Tennis Star Novak Djokovic Denied Entry Into Australia, Visa Cancelled Amid Exemption Furor.” Authors Rachel Elbaum and David K. Li failed to mention the unlawful detainment of Djoković in the title, but capitalized on an opportunity to refer to the “exemption furor.” Indeed, the article dedicated three paragraphs to the controversial exemption, and none to the conditions that the World No. 1 was experiencing. Interestingly, NBC News had published another article on the exemption just one day earlier but didn’t publish a subsequent one on the detainment.

Similarly, tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times took to Twitter to attest that Djoković should be blamed. In a post that’s been liked over 10,000 times, Rothenberg says, “Whatever happens as this unfolds here, this is completely Novak Djoković’s fault for not getting the vaccine in the first place, which he had months to do.” It’s one thing to argue in favor of vaccination. It’s another to say that the incident is “completely Djoković’s fault.” How can being told you have the correct paperwork to enter a country and then being turned away from said country be completely your fault?

There is a multitude of further examples that could be added to this list, but there’s no need. The point stands–segments of the media have a strong agenda against Novak Djoković. Misinformation continues to run rampant.

Parting Word

Whatever your opinion of Novak Djoković and the Australian government may be, one thing is for sure–Djoković did not deserve this. He has been treated as a criminal and now he is being regarded as one by tennis fans around the globe. That is unacceptable. The man’s life and career are in a temporary state of limbo. Do your part and make it less difficult for him.

Main Photo from Getty.

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