“Are you prepared to forego the chance to be the greatest player that ever picked up a racket – statistically – because you feel so strongly about this jab?” asked the BBC, in a recent interview with Novak Djokovic.
“Yes…” replied Djokovic, nodding. “Yes, that is the price that I am willing to pay,” he added, when asked if he would accept missing out on the French Open and Wimbledon.
The World Number One tennis champion was famously expelled from Australia under special ministerial powers exercised by Alex Hawke because he has not been vaccinated against Covid and has publicly supported freedom of choice.
As the defending champion, he was denied the right to claim the title and the crucial ATP points associated with the competition. Each tournament that Djokovic misses threatens the future of his career.
This is particularly important, as Djokovic sits on the cusp of becoming the greatest tennis player of all time – something he would have likely achieved given his win-record at the Australian Open if he had been allowed to face Rafael Nadal.
Debate over whether excluding Djokovic, placing him in detention, and then deporting him was a morally valid action by the government continues to rage, with many seeing it as a worrying step towards politicians policing ‘wrongthink’.
“I was not deported from Australia on the basis I wasn’t vaccinated or I broke any rules or that I made an error in my visa declaration. All of that was actually approved and validated by the Federal Court of Australia and the Minister for Immigration.”
Djokovic added, “The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the Minister for Immigration [Alex Hawke] used his discretion to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with.”
Other ATP tournaments have since declared that they will also ban unvaccinated players from competing, essentially initiating a global mandate in the profession similar to the state mandates in Australia that have cost thousands of people their careers.
Many expected Novak Djokovic to quietly bow to pressure, get vaccinated, and rejoin the circuit.
This has not happened.
Instead, Djokovic has sat down for an interview with the BBC about the events Australian Open, his stance on Covid vaccines, and his decision to sacrifice future Grand Slam events rather than submit to vaccine mandates.
Djokovic confirmed media speculation that he is not vaccinated. He also clarified that he is not ‘anti-vax’ as his critics and detractors have printed, but rather that he believes it should be a free choice.
“I was never against vaccination,” the tennis champion insisted, “but I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
Other sports stars have been prevented from competing in Australia after expressing similar views to justify their vaccination status.
“I understand that globally, everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and seeing, hopefully, an end soon to this virus.”
Djokovic went further to clarify that he was not part of the so-called ‘anti-vax movement’ and that he had distanced himself from it.
“No one during the process of the Australian saga has asked me on my stance or my opinion on vaccination. No one. So I couldn’t really express what I felt and where my stance is, neither in the legal process or outside. It’s unfortunate that this has been the misconception and wrong conclusion that has been made around the world based on something that I completely disagree with.”
He also took the opportunity to clear up some of the misleading information regarding what happened in Victoria in the lead up to the Australian Open. Even though Djokovic’s application to play had been approved by two independent medical review boards, the decision to let him in came under fire from furious Victorians who have been subjected to two years of Covid health orders, including lockdowns and mandatory vaccination with large parts of the economy still controlled by a vaccine passport system.
“I take this very seriously, I really don’t like someone thinking I’ve misused something or in my own favour, in order to – you know – get a positive PCR test and eventually go to Australia.”
Djokovic spent most of his time in Australia detained by authorities and in court fighting for the right to compete.
“I was really sad and disappointed with the way it all ended for me in Australia. It wasn’t easy. Australians have been through one of the most severe lockdowns since the start of the pandemic. I can only imagine how hard it was for Australians. I sympathise and empathise with all people and I understand there has been lots of frustrations from [the] Australians people towards me and the entire situation and the way it was dealt with.”
He then added, “I would like to say I always follow the rules. I was ready to not go [to] Australia, as much as I love the country.”
The Australian government was worried that Djokovic’s presence at the Australian Open might ‘stir anti-vax sentiment’ when trying to micromanage public opinion has proved impossible. A month after Djokovic’s expulsion, the largest protest in Canberra’s history gathered outside Parliament House to demand an end to all Covid health orders – including vaccination – inspired by the Canadian Freedom Convoy.