Novak Djokovic’s Visa Troubles Began When He Made The Exemption Public

Novak Djokovic was sent home from the Australian Open.

The last two weeks have been extra ordinary in terms of off the court drama in tennis. The Australian Government gave its verdict on the ongoing visa saga concerning Novak Djokovic. They canceled his visa a second time late evening Australian time on Friday. We wonder whether Djokovic would find himself in the same position had he not made it known to the public that he’s heading to Australia with a medical exemption.

Novak Djokovic Visa Saga

The Beginning

On 4th January, Djokovic posted on Instagram revealing he’s headed to Australian Open 2022 with an exemption.

Many, myself included, were surprised at the late decision to grant him the exemption but at a place where he’s the 9 time champion, it couldn’t have completely been ruled out. After all, tournament director Craig Tiley is on record saying any player who wishes to participate will have to be vaccinated or get an exemption.

Hence Djokovic’s exemption enabled him to participate despite being unvaccinated. The exemption was not granted easily but the independent panel saw it fit to give Djokovic one. So far so good for the Serb.

The Exemption

Perhaps what Djokovic didn’t foresee is that his immense popularity could backfire. While not many would’ve cared if the 150th ranked player was allowed with an exemption, people do care if it’s the No. 1 ranked player. Australians even more so. Australia has enforced very strict lockdowns and vaccine mandates right since the start of the pandemic and the exemption was a slap in the face to those who’d endured the worst of the pandemic.

Tiley too failed to predict the huge backlash the exemption was going to create. While the exemption was granted following all guidelines set by the Australian authorities, the government wasn’t very keen on a global athlete using it. Perhaps that’s fair because the exemption is primarily for those who have acute health conditions preventing them from taking the vaccine. Djokovic certainly didn’t have one.

The Downward Spiral

Djokovic landed in Melbourne only to find that the Border Police wouldn’t let him enter. Visa rules had changed since it was granted and his exemption was not valid. We still didn’t know at the time the reason for his exemption. Tiley too gave Djokovic the discretion to reveal the reason for his exemption. The Australian PM jumped at this situation reinforcing his strong stance on Covid.

As soon as Djokovic challenged the decision to revoke his visa, the downward spiral began for the Serb. All documents were in the public sphere, and coupled with Djokovic’s social media, the Serb was cornered. Even though he did win the initial appeal to reinstate his visa (which, in my opinion, was the right thing to do at the time since Djokovic certainly didn’t deserve to be treated the way he was), letting him play was going to be another matter altogether.

The reason for the exemption was a Covid infection on 16th December but it didn’t take long for people to discover the Serb was outside after the positive test result. Djokovic didn’t help his cause at all by issuing a statement stating he did give an interview being Covid positive. That was it for the Serb. No matter how much he pleaded, that was a clear breach of COVID protocols in any country.

Alternate Reality

What if Djokovic didn’t make it public that he’d received an exemption? Would the Australian public have reacted in the same way? The government and authorities would’ve known about it, and their stance wouldn’t have changed, but the latest decision in cancelling Djokovic’s Visa very much stated that it was in the public interest to do so. That’s public sentiment at play here.

In all fairness, we would’ve known he’d received an exemption as soon as he appealed, but my guess is as good as yours whether the Border Police would have canceled his visa in the first place.

Lots of factors were in play there, including Tennis Australia guidelines, Victorian state guidelines, and the federal government rules. To sift through that is a herculean task and one which the likes of great tennis players like Djokovic shouldn’t have to. How to keep doing the things you’re the best at and you love? Get vaccinated and save yourself and others, or risk staying home.

Main Photo from Getty.


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