Novak Djokovic, the number one ranked tennis player in the world, will not compete in the first leg of the sport’s Grand Slam in Australia because a border bureaucrat decided he was not eligible for a medical exemption from being vaccinated, even though he had recovered from COVID-19.
Djokovic had already arrived in Australia after being assured he could compete because of his previous bout with COVID. But the government of Australia, in the midst of an election campaign, decided to make an example of the tennis star and punish him because he hadn’t been vaccinated.
On Sunday, a three-judge panel upheld the government’s decision to cancel his visa and deport him.
More broadly, he lost to a government determined to make him a symbol of unvaccinated celebrity entitlement; to an immigration law that gives godlike authority to border enforcement; and to a public outcry, in a nation of rule-followers, over what was widely seen as Mr. Djokovic’s reckless disregard for others, after he said he had tested positive for Covid last month and met with two journalists anyway.
“At this point, it’s about social norms and enforcing those norms to continue to get people to move in the same direction to overcome this pandemic,” said Brock Bastian, a social psychology professor at the University of Melbourne. “In this culture, in this country, a sense of suddenly upending those norms has a great cost politically and socially.”
Bizarrely, the court did not rule on the merits of Djokovic’s stance, or on whether the government was correct in arguing that he might influence others to resist vaccination or defy public health orders. Instead, the judges found that the immigration minister who canceled the tennis star’s visa had the power to do so. Goodbye, Novak.
There was evidence that Djokovic was to be deported based on Hawke’s assessment that he was considered a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiment.”
Hawke’s lawyer Stephen Lloyd took aim at Djokovic’s anti-vaccination stance and his “history of ignoring COVID safety measures.”
Lloyd raised the example of Djokovic giving a French newspaper journalist an interview last month while he was infected with COVID-19 and taking off his mask during a photo shoot. Djokovic has acknowledged the interview was an error of judgment.
The minister canceled the visa on the grounds that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public and “may be counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others in Australia.”
COVID sure makes some people crazy, doesn’t it?
What’s even worse is that Djokovic had actually been cleared to play by the Australian tennis federation. He had been exempted from the tournament’s vaccine rules because he had been infected with the virus within the previous six months.
But in the midst of a tight political campaign, Djokovic, being a symbol of the anti-vax element in Australia, was dangerous to Prime Minister Morrison’s crusade against the unvaccinated and had to be taught a lesson.
The anti-vax movement in Australia is more vocal than in many countries largely because of Australia’s pandemic restrictions being among the strictest in the world. The last thing Morrison wanted was to see Djokovic made into a symbol of resistance that the opposition could use as evidence that he has mishandled the crisis.
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