The joy of the world number one in tennis was short-lived. Tuesday, January 4, a smiling Novak Djokovic posed on the tarmac of an airport, ready to fly to Melbourne. The man with the 20 Grand Slam titles – including nine on Australian soil – was pleased to have obtained a medical exemption to be able to play the Australian Open, from January 17 to 30. The Serb was disillusioned when he arrived at Melbourne airport the next day. After detaining the player for several hours, the Australian authorities finally canceled his visa, compromising his participation in the first Grand Slam tournament of the season.
“Mr. Djokovic did not provide the appropriate information to enter Australia”, explained Greg Hunt, the Australian Minister of Health, Wednesday evening. According to the local daily The Age, he would not have completed the correct form for the type of visa he requested. The decision of the Australian authorities comes in any case at the end of two days of imbroglio around the vaccination situation of Novak Djokovic. The Serbian player, openly hostile to vaccination, has never communicated on his vaccination status.
“The world has suffered enough like this not to follow the rules”
The vagueness surrounding the granting of a medical exemption to Novak Djokovic has not failed to revive the debate on the vaccination of athletes. “The only thing clear to me is that if you are vaccinated you can play the Australian Open and everywhere else. (…) I think that if Novak wanted it, he would play in Australia without problem ”, Rafael Nadal reacted on Thursday, on the sidelines of the Melbourne tournament in which he takes part, adding that “The world has suffered enough like this not to follow the rules.”
→ DEBATE. Covid-19: should vaccination be made compulsory?
If other renowned athletes, like Kylian Mbappé, have shown themselves to be fervent activists for vaccination, others have expressed their reluctance towards vaccines. This is the case with NBA superstar Kyrie Irving. Refusing to be vaccinated, the basketball player of the Brooklyn Nets has missed 35 games this season … before returning to the workforce at the request of his leaders.
A question of ethics
For their part, the Australian authorities do not seem willing to grant such a privilege to Novak Djokovic. Australian Prime Minister himself Scott Morisson demanded that the Serbian player provide the evidence justifying the exemption, otherwise “He will return home in the first plane”. “There will be no special rule for Novak Djokovic”, he insisted.
“The Australian government is sending a message to its people: the athlete, even if it is Djokovic, is a citizen who is subject to the same rules as the others”, observes William Gasparini, sociologist specializing in sports issues at the University of Strasbourg. “The particular health and political context of Melbourne also explains the attitude of the public authorities”, he adds. An exception would probably have been very badly perceived by the population in a city which, with more than 262 days of confinement, holds the world record in the matter.
→ ANALYSIS. Beijing Winter Olympics: athletes anticipate the Games under cover
For the sociologist, vaccination is also a question of ethics: “We consider that high-level athletes, because of what they represent, have a duty to set an example. “ Proof that this exemplarity counts in the eyes of the public, Buffalo Bills player Cole Beasley was booed by his own supporters after publicly expressing his refusal to be vaccinated.
Ethical question or not, health measures are being reinforced all over the planet, tightening the noose around recalcitrant athletes. In France, the bill transforming the health pass into a vaccination pass was adopted at first reading on Thursday, January 6. “The obligation to present a vaccination pass is based on the place frequented, recalls Me Gautier Kertudo, lawyer specializing in sports law. Therefore, it applies in the same way to athletes and supporters. “
→ ANALYSIS. Delayed in the Assembly, the law on the vaccine pass continues its path
However, exceptions could exist with regard to certain sporting events. According to The Parisian, a tournament like Roland-Garros could set up a “Strict sanitary bubble” rather than requiring a full immunization schedule from participating athletes. An exemption that would save Novak Djokovic a lot of trouble. For now, the Serbian champion has obtained a suspension of his expulsion from Australian territory. The player should be fixed on his fate on Monday January 10, date of the hearing.