JANET STREET-PORTER: Unless the Australian government wants to lose all respect from its long-suffering people it needs to show Novaxx the Covid diva the door
If you ever thought there was a level playing field in sport, the events of the last 24 hours in Melbourne demonstrate that’s a hollow joke.
At the very top level, forget equality of opportunity. If you’re a guaranteed winner, a box office draw, a reigning champion – whom sponsors and advertiser adore – blatant favouritism and special treatment are yours for the taking.
Australia is currently fighting off the latest wave of Covid with record infections (almost 300,000 over the Christmas period), and a ham-fisted Prime Minister who has just made the dumb decision to continue charging $AU10 dollars for home rapid antigen tests (which the UK has given out free since last April) – claiming ‘we can’t go around and make everything free.’
So, health doesn’t matter if you’re poor?
PM Scott Morrison has switched positions on mask-wearing, social distancing and border controls so many times, no wonder long suffering Aussies are fed up to the back teeth.
If you ever thought there was a level playing field in sport, the events of the last 24 hours in Melbourne demonstrate that’s a hollow joke, writes JANET STREET-PORTER. There’s one rule for Novak Djokovic (pictured) – and another set of rules for mere mortals
You’ll remember over 40,000 Australian citizens couldn’t return home from March 2020 as the Prime Minister kept the borders firmly closed.
Many watched loved ones die from overseas, forced to attend funerals via zoom. Families were split in two, with workers and students stranded overseas, running out of cash.
Then, last November, entry requirements were slightly relaxed so that citizens could return, and a limited list of foreign professionals were also allowed entry, if they were double vaxxed and tested negative.
Although, funnily enough, a bunch of foreign celebs and film stars had managed to gain entry to Australia many months earlier- including Rita Ora, Matt Damon, Idris Elba, Zac Efron, Ed Sheeran, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
Some were filming or appearing on TV – vital life-saving work, as I’m sure you’ll agree, but no consolation to those lesser citizens stranded miles from home.
For his part, the reigning world tennis champion, the man who has won 20 Grand Slams, and the Australian Open for the last three years – is not just ‘special’, a sporting god, he also has a remarkable ability to move around the world in a pandemic.
There’s one rule for Novak Djokovic – and another set of rules for mere mortals.
As I write, Djokovic is sitting in a room at Melbourne airport, detained by Border Agents as the farce surrounding his permission to compete in the Australian Open (which starts on January 17th) unfolds.
As I write, Djokovic is sitting in a room at Melbourne airport, detained by Border Agents as the farce surrounding his permission to compete in the Australian Open (which starts on January 17th) unfolds
A huge controversy erupted earlier this week when it emerged he had been granted ‘medical exemption’ by two independent panels of doctors allowing him to circumvent the stringent conditions requiring all players, workers and spectators involved in the event to be double vaccinated.
Foreign players must not only provide proof of vaccination, they are required to take a PCR test on arrival and remain in isolation until they get a negative result.
We’re told that 26 players requested medical exemptions – usually only granted for individuals who have suffered an adverse reaction to vaccines or have major medical conditions or recent surgery.
An even smaller handful – including Djokovic were granted permission.
As tennis legend Rod Laver puts it, Djokovic is obviously super-fit – so on what grounds did he manage to secure the right to play?
From the moment I first saw him on number one court at Wimbledon over almost ten years ago, I’ve been a huge fan.
Sure, he’s moody, temperamental, and sulky. But those are his irritating personality traits, not his tennis skills.
When he’s on form, Novak is the most magical being you will ever see on a tennis court.
I’ve played tennis since the age of 12 and I’ve been coached for years, but I’ll never have one millionth of his natural talent.
And so, even though Djokovic is an irritating b*****d at times, I honour his hard work and single-minded brilliance.
But there’s one aspect of his tortured personality that’s troubling – his determined refusal to come clean about where he stands on Covid and vaccinations.
Back in June 2020, as the pandemic was still in its early stages, Djokovic hosted a tennis tournament in the Balkans, with exhibition matches in his native Serbia and Croatia.
There was a complete lack of social distancing, and no requirement for competitors to take tests.
After one player – Dimitrov, tested positive, Djokovic flew home to Monaco without being tested – setting an appalling example to younger players – although he later apologised.
JANET STREET-PORTER: Australia needs to show some guts and direct this diva to the door
His wife, coach, and three top players all subsequently tested positive following what had turned out to be a super-spreader event.
This was at a time when tennis players outside of the worlds’ top 50 were really struggling for cash as tournaments around the world were cancelled.
There have been consistent rumours that some players would provide negative tests acquired by dubious means to play and not lose income.
Whatever, in any sport there will be a few cheats.
Djokovic spoke out against vaccinations and what he calls ‘extreme precautions’ against covid in 2020, saying these are private matters for individuals – as a result, critics have dubbed him Novaxx Djocovid.
This week, after being granted his medical exemption (for whatever reason), Djokovic and his team boarded a flight from Dubai to Melbourne.
On arrival, Border officers discovered that he had applied for the wrong type of working visa, one that allegedly did not permit medical exemptions.
And that is why the world’s number one tennis player is sitting in a room at Melbourne airport, waiting to hear if more rules will be bent to allow him entry to a city which has spent more days in lockdown than any other since Covid began back in March 2020.
During that time, Djokovic has lived in luxury in Monte Carlo, playing in tournaments when permitted, and remaining tight-lipped about whether he has ever been vaccinated.
The citizens of Melbourne have spent much of the past two years prevented from shopping, working, walking in the park, travelling to other Australian states, and even playing tennis for fun.
Not surprisingly, the decision to grant a millionaire superstar an exemption has gone down like the proverbial cup of cold sick Down Under.
Is Tennis Australia so desperate that they think viewers will not watch if the Serb doesn’t play? After all, Rafael Nadal, who has also won 20 Grand Slams, arrived in the country quietly the other day and is preparing to compete.
Scott Morrison has told the press that Djokovic should not get special treatment and will be put on the first plane home if he does not have all his paperwork in order. We’ll see. Pictured: The tennis star after winning the Open in 2021
The event will survive and flourish without the World Number 1, even if the sponsors make the usual threats.
Organisers are always banging on about how important it is to attract young people from all ethnic backgrounds to the game- and they have started to be successful.
Which is why they must make a stand over Djokovic because he sets no kind of example to anyone, other than demonstrating he is worthy of ‘special’ treatment.
Scott Morrison has told the press that Djokovic should not get special treatment and will be put on the first plane home if he does not have all his paperwork in order. We’ll see.
The anti-vaxxers in Australia are loud and shouty people who are doing their best to keep the country shut down. Despite their best efforts 90% of over-16’s have had two jabs,
But there’s a hard-core of older people who are still resistant and Djokivic is their poster boy. And now his father is angrily calling for supporters to take to the streets claiming this is a fight for ‘libertarian rights’.
Australia needs to show some guts and direct this diva to the door.