Controversy struck when the world’s number one singles tennis player and 20 time Grand Slam Champion, Novak Djokovic, was not allowed to enter Australia to play at the first Grand Slam of the year. In what can only be described as a tumultuous month, with the Omicron variant causing a rise in cases, many countries have implemented protocols to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Djokovic, who had acquired a medical exemption to play at the Australian Open for his vaccination status — in April 2020, he stated he was against vaccination — was held in an airport in Melbourne for over eight hours before being sent to a hotel detention facility.
On January 10, Djokovic appeared in front of a judge, after which he was freed from the hotel detention facility, but was made aware that Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke still had the right to deport him. In the days prior, Djokovic had come under investigation for potentially submitting a “false declaration,” which was listed as the premise for the cancellation of his visa. Photographs had emerged of him having been in Spain and Serbia recently, despite the fact that he had ticked ‘No’ on a document which asked if he had travelled in the past 14 days.
In a statement posted on Facebook and Instagram, Djokovic admitted that he attended a ceremony where he presented awards to children after he had tested negative on a rapid antigen test and while still waiting for a PCR result. Furthermore, following a positive COVID-19 PCR test, Djokovic proceeded with an interview with L’Équipe, although he did admit that this was an “error of judgement.” He confessed his faux pas; however, his inability to provide all the necessary information, when asked, brings into question the plausibility of all the information he provided.
Considered one of the greatest players to ever step on the court, Djokovic has come under a plethora of scrutiny for the most part of his career. However, this all pales in comparison to the attention he has received in the media over the course of the past few weeks regarding his battle to compete in the Australian Open. Prior to potentially falsifying documents to enter Australia, there was a clear divide in people’s opinions.
Some people, including tennis star Nick Kyrgios, have come out to defend Djokovic and the manner in which the whole situation has been handled by the media. On the other hand, some Australian athletes and citizens are of the opinion that Djokovic does not still have the right to play, as Australian citizens have suffered so much themselves to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Furthermore, fellow players have criticized the fact that, due to his standing, Djokovic has received special treatment. Jamie Murray stated in a post-match interview, “I think if it was me that wasn’t vaccinated, I wouldn’t be getting an exemption.”
As of January 16, Djokovic has left Australia and will not be competing in the Australian Open. In this competition, he would have had the chance to receive a record 10th Australian Open title and a record 21st Grand Slam, surpassing rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Djokovic was scheduled to play Miomir Kecmanović on January 16.