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COVID containment a priority over events awarding trophies, medals

Jan 19,2022 - Last updated at Jan 19,2022

Australia's deportation of unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic has put on notice all sportsmen and women and countries hosting competitions that COVID containment should be given priority over events awarding trophies and medals. Vaccinations have become essential now that the world's number one tennis player has become persona non grata in one country, making this likely elsewhere depending on COVID infections.

Under current regulations he could play in the French Open in May if he presents proof of two vaccinations, according to the sports ministry spokesman. President Emmanuel Macron recently pledged to crack-down on the unvaccinated and could lose face if an exception is made of Djokovic. To enter Britain for Wimbledon in June, Djokovic would have to take a PCR test two days before arrival and quarantine for 10 days. 

Admission by US immigration could be denied for the US Open in August as the Department of State dictates: “Foreign national air travellers to the United States will be required to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to fly to the United States, with only limited exceptions.” US President Joe Biden has spoken of the "plague of the unvaccinated" who are strongly represented in the rising the number of COVID cases in that country. Consequently, the US could also find it difficult to make an exception of Djokovic. New York, site of the US Open, also has strict rules on unvaccinated people at indoor events. His travel anywhere could also be complicated as visa applicants are often asked if they had been deported or had a visa rejected or cancelled.

What happens on the tennis front will determine how Djokovic fares financially with prize money and with his sponsors. So far in his career he has earned $153 million in prize money, while his net worth is reported at $220 million. This breaks down to $4.5 million in annual earnings from matches and $30 million from sponsorships.

It is unclear whether Djokovic will capitulate to Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca. In April 2020, before vaccination was widespread, he said he was "opposed to vaccination”. He later admitted that he was "no expert" and would maintain an "open mind" but on Facebook he said he "wouldn't want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine" to travel or take part in competitions.

His refusal complicated his relationship with fellow Australian Open singles players who were all vaccinated as the saga of his battle against deportation dominated the global media and soured the Melbourne tournament's atmosphere.

Djokovic has done a considerable disservice to sportsman and women seeking to compete in tournaments as the world's top tennis star has become the new global icon and martyr of the anti-vaccination movement.

If he had been permitted to play and had won his 10th Open, the Australian authorities feared this would have given a powerful boost to the anti-vaxxers whose rejectionism endangers all they encounter. While Djokovic's fans criticised the Australian government for deporting him, the overwhelming majority of Australians backed the authorities. After his deportation, Djokovic flew via Dubai to Belgrade in Serbia, his homeland, where he received a hero's welcome. Elsewhere commentators and bloggers have criticised his behaviour and said the Australians were right to deport him for defying the ban on unvaccinated entrants.

Djokovic made the mistake of betting on his celebrity as the world's number one to ignore Australian rules and regulations and he almost won when a Victoria state court overturned the ban on his entry imposed by airport immigration officers. However, he did not take into account the political aspect of his case and the possibility that Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke would take a hard line and this would be upheld by a three-judge panel on the federal court. Hawke had no option but to deport Djokovic because Australia has adopted tough measures in its campaign to contain the virus. Australians who were abroad were not allowed to return home while many were refused the right to travel outside the country. Mask mandates and lockdowns were imposed everywhere. Melbourne, which hosts the Australian Open competition, is the most lock-downed city on the planet.

While, so far, dodging jabs and avoiding serious illness from infection by COVID, Djokovic appears to have been infected with the arrogance of entitlement which can afflict celebrities or powerful personages. Therefore, he did not present a credible reason for Australia to grant him exemption from the vaccination requirement for entry to that country. His claim for a waiver was based on a positive test allegedly conducted on December 16th when he also attended a ceremony in Serbia honouring him with a series of postage stamps commemorating his career. On the 17th he met and was photographed unmasked and at close quarters with a large group of children and on the 18th he was interviewed by a French sports journalist. Furthermore, while his home is in Monaco, he also visited Serbia and Spain before flying to Australia, but did not include these trips on his visa application although listing all countries he visited 14 days before his arrival was required by the Australian immigration authorities.

Therefore, he not only defied the vaccination requirement but also behaved badly after he said he tested positive and did not truthfully enter his travel schedule on his visa application.

January has been a bad month for other high-profile figures who, like Djokovic, have a strong belief in their entitlement. The favourite son of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, Prince Andrew has been stripped of his honourary military titles and from being addressed as His Royal Highness due to his unsavoury association with US millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted trafficker in minor girls. And, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing increasing pressures to resign following revelations that he and his staff had repeatedly partied at Number 10 Downing Street, his office and official residence during the strict 2020 COVID lockdown.

Finally, the British charity Oxfam exposed the world's ten entitled richest men by reporting their wealth doubled from $700 billion to 1.5 trillion during the pandemic as 21,000 people died every day from a lack of access to health care, gender violence, hunger and climate change. While COVID has plunged 100 million people into poverty, Oxfam called for tax reforms to fund vaccine manufacture, health care and climate change measures.  

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