DOMINIC LAWSON: I know a stunt when I see it

I was given the same pseudo-medical therapy as Djokovic, writes DOMINIC LAWSON, and while I’ve not won 20 Grand Slams, I know a stunt when I see it

What’s the difference between how the Romans punished Jesus Christ and the way that Australia’s government is treating the world’s top male tennis player, 34-year-old Novak Djokovic?

None whatsoever, according to his father, Srdjan Djokovic.

Last week he declared: ‘Jesus was crucified on the cross and everything was done to him, but he is alive among us even now. Now Novak is being crucified, they are doing everything to him.’

The only apt response is that given by the late Terry Jones, playing the part of the mother of Brian, in Monty Python’s Life Of Brian.

To a crowd declaring Brian to be the Son of God, Jones screeched: ‘Now you listen here! He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!’

The 20-times Grand Slam title winner (a men’s record held jointly with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer) — who was set on winning the forthcoming Australian Open, and thus overhauling those two rivals — has, indeed, been very naughty. 

And the alleged punishment he is now undergoing — forced to quarantine in Melbourne’s Park Hotel, and required to eat the food it provides, rather than that cooked by his personal chef — is not exactly the same as being mercilessly flogged and crucified.

Djokovic’s ‘naughtiness’ does not consist in his refusal to take a Covid vaccine, or, indeed, his public opposition to vaccination; if that’s what he believes, he’s entitled to say it.

Champion tennis player Novak Djokovic's (pictured, with wife Jelena) court battle to stay in Australia so he can play in the Australian Open tournament is due to go ahead on Monday

Champion tennis player Novak Djokovic’s (pictured, with wife Jelena) court battle to stay in Australia so he can play in the Australian Open tournament is due to go ahead on Monday

Pictured: Tennis player Novak Djokovic's father Srdjan Djokovic speaks flanked by his wife Dijana Djokovic, as they take part in a rally in front of Serbia's National Assembly, in Belgrade

Pictured: Tennis player Novak Djokovic’s father Srdjan Djokovic speaks flanked by his wife Dijana Djokovic, as they take part in a rally in front of Serbia’s National Assembly, in Belgrade

But then he should also be prepared to accept the consequences. Which, given that the Australian visa policy demands incomers are ‘double-vaccinated’ against Covid, would mean not taking part in an event at which he has been undefeated since 2018.

A number of other less illustrious tennis stars behaved accordingly. Such unvaccinated players as the French five-times Grand Slam doubles champion Pierre-Hugues Herbert, and Tennys Sandgren of the U.S., declared they could not take part for that reason.

So they would have been amazed when the organisers of the Australian Open, and a sports medical panel set up for the event by the state of Victoria, announced that Djokovic had qualified for exemption from the vaccine requirement.

I imagine the most affronted would have been the vaccinated Russian player Natalia Vikhlyantseva, denied entry because the Australian authorities had not approved the Russian Sputnik vaccine (a perfectly decent one, and as effective as those used Down Under).

Admittedly, Djokovic has become a victim of Australian politics, too.

Initially, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said he accepted the exemption for Djokovic given by Tennis Australia and the government of Victoria (which both had a clear interest in the world’s top player taking part in their event).

But when the Labour Opposition — and, indeed, millions of Australians who had endured some of the world’s strictest anti-Covid restrictions — cried foul, Morrison reversed his position.

And given that immigration is primarily a federal and not a state matter, Djokovic suddenly found himself facing not a warm welcome from the tennis-loving Australians, but the likelihood of expulsion from the country.

Pictured: Novak Djokovic with the Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley in 2015

Pictured: Novak Djokovic with the Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley in 2015

This is a matter now to be contested by the player’s lawyers, who insist that his exemption from the vaccination requirement was entirely in accordance with the rules set out by Tennis Australia.

Those rules allowed such exemption if the player concerned could demonstrate that he (or she) had recently contracted, and recovered from, Covid. And Djokovic’s lawyers said that it was on December 16 that their client’s ‘first positive PCR test was recorded’.

Yet the following day, December 17, Djokovic was photographed, maskless, handing out the annual prizes at the Novak Tennis Centre in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Fishy. 

Fishier still is the fact that the relevant document, issued by Tennis Australia to all would-be competitors in the Open, states: ‘If you wish to have your medical exemption reviewed by the judgment panel, you will need to forward your application and supporting documentation urgently and no later than Friday December 10, 2021.’

Those last ten words were printed in bold, for emphasis. So how was it possible for Novak Djokovic to have submitted a valid form by December 10, if his ‘qualifying’ infection (now over) was not first detected until December 16?

His lawyers argue a recent infection gives him exemption. Pictured: Djokovic and wife Jelena

His lawyers argue a recent infection gives him exemption. Pictured: Djokovic and wife Jelena

At the very least, this strongly suggests that he was given special treatment, not available to other participants. And there are few, if any, nations more hostile than Australians to the idea of special privileges for people at the top.

That offends against the whole ‘mate’ culture: it goes well beyond simply the idea of everyone having to face the same treatment when it comes to coronavirus restrictions.

There is not much sympathy, either, for Djokovic’s pseudo-medical clowning, which underlies the whole business.

In the summer of 2020, while the first wave of the pandemic was still rife, and before any vaccines arrived on the scene, he organised a charity tournament, the Adria Tennis Tour, in four Balkan cities.

Unsurprisingly, within days, many of the players and coaches tested positive for Covid, including Djokovic and his wife Jelena, and the event was abandoned.

Djokovic issued a statement saying he had acted only ‘with a pure heart’.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said he accepted the exemption for Djokovic given by Tennis Australia and the government of Victoria but when people cried foul, he reversed his position

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said he accepted the exemption for Djokovic given by Tennis Australia and the government of Victoria but when people cried foul, he reversed his position

But he was already opposing Covid vaccines even before they were developed. He has given great succour to the antivax cause. It may be no accident that Serbia, where he is venerated, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe.

It is not just the great Novak who opposes vaccination: his 35-year-old wife shared social media posts claiming that the pandemic was caused by 5G telecommunication masts. If that were true, then vaccination would certainly not be the appropriate response. 

But where did the couple’s eccentric medical opinions originate? Apparently they began in around 2010, when Novak was struggling with his fitness and was seen by a doctor called Igor Cetojevic.

According to The Times, Cetojevic ‘pressed down on the star’s right arm. Then he made Djokovic hold a piece of bread against his stomach with his left hand, while he pressed down on the star’s right arm once more. This time Djokovic discovered his right arm was weaker.

‘This simple experiment was the advent of the gluten-free diet that Djokovic credits with fuelling his ascent.’

Djokovic’s guru — and alleged sporting saviour — also uses a pendulum to detect ‘holes’ in the body’s ‘atmosphere’.

Pictured: Russian player Natalia Vikhlyantseva, who was denied entry to the country because the Australian authorities had not approved the Russian Sputnik vaccine she had received

Pictured: Russian player Natalia Vikhlyantseva, who was denied entry to the country because the Australian authorities had not approved the Russian Sputnik vaccine she had received

It was one Chervin Jafarieh, though, founder of a ‘wellness company’ called Cymbiotika, who convinced Djokovic that ‘through the power of gratitude, [people] turn the most toxic food into the most healing water’.

Perhaps Novak should try that with the food he’s been served at the Melbourne Park Hotel, if he thinks it’s toxic.

Funnily enough, I once underwent the same ‘treatment’ as that provided by Dr Cetojevic, when I spent ten days at a Central European spa.

The head of the spa did the ‘place food on stomach while pushing on arm’ stunt, and declared, after claiming I offered ‘less resistance’ when holding a piece of cheese, that I was ‘lactose-intolerant’.

I expressed my scepticism at the time, and, almost 15 years later, can affirm that I maintain good health on a diet heavy with dairy products — especially cheese.

On the other hand, I haven’t managed to win 20 Grand Slam tennis tournaments.

This ‘treatment’, if you are interested, is a branch of what is known as ‘kinesiology’: go to the website of the Kinesiology Association in this country and you will find it taking the credit for ‘the diet that saved Novak Djokovic’.

None of this is to criticise Djokovic as a sportsman. And his amazing self-belief is intimately connected to his never-say-die attitude on the court.

But in the real life-and-death world of medicine, vaccines have saved more millions of lives than all other treatments combined. That’s not a game.








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