On the surface, it’s difficult to discern what the Australian Government sought to gain from manufacturing a farcical soap opera starring the greatest tennis player of the past decade, a man who has been crowned Aussie Open champion nine times already (more than any other player in history) and has won it on the last three occasions it’s been staged. If the idea was to continue the doomed ‘Zero Covid’ policy by making an example of an international household name just to show no one is exempt from some of the strictest restrictions on the planet, it’s been something of a PR disaster – especially when one considers Novak Djokovic wasn’t exactly alone as an unvaccinated athlete whose entrance to Camp Oz was approved for the tournament. This fact suggests he didn’t receive any of the ‘special treatment’ that has been cited as a reason for the opposition to his participation, though having his visa revoked and all the legal shenanigans that have followed emits the scent of a prized scapegoat.
The un-vaccinated have been portrayed as Public Enemy Number One by Australia as much as any other country with a leader prepared to weaponise the pandemic for political gain. Monsieur Macron is a good example, forever engaged in discriminating against the un-vaxxed, and a man who will don a mask when sat alone for a Zoom conference whilst not considering such precautions necessary when hanging out in-person with other world leaders. And Aussie PM Scott Morrison has seen his popularity plummet over the last few months as the harsh policies of the past couple of years have proven unsuccessful in stemming the tide of each successive variant. As Sydney and Melbourne (the world’s longest locked-down city) tentatively reopen, a change of tack by Aussie politicians has seen a resigned acceptance emerge that everyone will succumb to the Omicron variant at some point, and no amount of lockdowns will alter that inevitability. What does that say about the sacrifices the Australian people have been faced with little choice but to accept?
Whereas the UK lockdowns were intended to slow the spread in order to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed, the Australian approach seemed to be a misguided attempt to stop the coronavirus altogether; no matter how long it took, they’d keep everyone behind closed doors until the nasty virus had gone away. Apparently, new kid on the block Omicron has been responsible for a swift upsurge in Aussie cases – more in the past couple of weeks than in the past couple of years – despite all the extreme policies in place since the spring of 2020; yet, Novak Djokovic, a man whose antibodies are presumably strong having already recovered from a bout of Covid in December, has been targeted as embodying everything evil about those portrayed as responsible for the wave of latest cases, the un-vaxxed. Australia’s Northern Territories have responded by locking the scum down whilst simultaneously allowing the merely double-vaxxed (who are more than capable of spreading the latest variant) to go about their business.
With Scott Morrison faced with having to call elections come the spring, it’s evident he requires something to justify the policies he’s pursued with such vigour, regardless of how the evidence implies they’ve ultimately failed. Smearing Novak Djokovic appeared to be the gift he was looking for, what with the current Aussie Open champ being so arrogant as to turn up ready to play jab-free. Battling deportation due to officials concluding he didn’t meet the criteria for vaccine exemption to enter the country, Djokovic has now successfully appealed against the decision to cancel his visa in the Federal Court of Australia. Under guard at a Melbourne hotel since last Thursday, he argued he had done all that was required of him to enter Australia and the judge agreed, ordering that his quarantine end ASAP. Djokovic claimed he had been grilled for six hours by immigration officials, sleep-deprived at his hotel, and placed under persistent pressure to submit to their decision that he pull out of the tournament, which begins in just seven days’ time. Djokovic felt he possessed proof that contradicted the authorities’ conviction he didn’t qualify for exemption, afterwards explaining ‘I had been recently infected with Covid in December 2021 and on this basis I was entitled to medical exemption in accordance with Australian government rules and guidance. I further explained that my medical exemption had been granted by the Independent Medical Review Panel’.
Djokovic added he had received a letter from the Chief Medical Officer of Tennis Australia which said he had medical exemption on the grounds of his recent recovery from the coronavirus; and medical authorities in Australia have recently ruled that a temporary exemption from vaccination can be issued to anyone who’s been infected within six months, something Djokovic has proved he is eligible for. It seems pretty clear that the Aussie authorities were determined to prevent Djokovic from participating in the Open, yet the Serb refused to play ball. His successful appeal isn’t the end of the story, however, as the Home Affairs Minister still has the powers to overrule the judge, able to cancel his visa all over again. The Government’s lawyer at the appeal hearing said that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs (now, there’s a job title) ‘will consider whether to exercise a personal power of cancellation’.
In theory, Djokovic could be banned from Australia for up to three years, though how much such a decision would boost Scott Morrison’s re-election prospects remains debatable; it’d certainly damage the country’s international reputation even further. With the Ashes having successfully been staged – and benefitted from a piss-poor England performance – does Australia really want to reduce an equally prestigious sporting occasion to a farce by deporting the defending champion on such spurious grounds? In the wake of the Aussie Government response to the appeal hearing, Djokovic’s brother Djordje has argued the authorities will be even more determined to deport the player following their humiliating defeat, quoted as saying ‘they want to capture and lock up Novak again’. Considering the efforts so far made to prevent Djokovic’s participation at the Open, it’s difficult to believe the authorities will simply call it a day following the judge’s decision. To throw the towel in now would surely amount to an admission of failure not only in this particular case, but it tackling the coronavirus altogether.
According to stats, 92% of Aussies over-16 have been double-jabbed, though only 14% have had the booster; that stat has nothing to do with a Serbian tennis player and far more to do with the unsuccessful policies of politicians. Even in the Mother Country, more than half of the patients admitted to hospital here with Covid symptoms are vaccinated, despite the un-vaxxed continuing to carry the can; and when such a respected public figure as ‘Sir’ Tony Blair refers to them as ‘idiots’, queues are at vaccination centres are hardly likely to be boosted as a consequence. Confronted by the failure of lockdowns, social distancing, social bubbles and Covid passports as workable methods to keep an airborne virus at bay, the unvaccinated remain perfect scapegoats for struggling politicians, though one wonders if the Aussies have overreached themselves and sabotaged an event that, like the Ashes, could at least present a positive image to the rest of the world that life down under is finally beginning to recover.
© The Editor