MARTIN SAMUEL: Novak Djokovic has gone from looking like a victim of Australia’s cold immigration system to a visitor trying to game it…. playing on his fame to gain special treatment is a terrible look to the majority
Ultimately, it is a mess. Even now, close to a week on. We are little nearer to knowing whether Novak Djokovic will still be in the draw come Monday. Little nearer to finding out whether he will be detained, deported or defending his title.
It is an avoidable, unedifying mess. Australia did not want him in Melbourne, and should have made that clear a long time ago. Instead the hosts granted him a visa and, almost immediately, regretted it. So now, here we are again. Back in blacked out vans, back to Melbourne’s Federal Circuit and Family Court, in front of Justice O’Callaghan, with more legal argument to come.
But not back in the Australian Open. Not yet. For now, Djokovic’s visa remains cancelled and Alex Hawke, Immigration Minister, hopes to have succeeded where many opponents have failed in expelling Djokovic from the first Grand Slam of the year.
Novak Djokovic could be detained, deported or defending his Australian Open title next week
Djokovic had his visa revoked again on Friday and will spend the weekend in detention centre
There was an interview scheduled for 8am Saturday in Melbourne, and further court proceedings slated for 9am Sunday. As ever, Djokovic will not depart without a fight. Yet not even his expensively assembled legal team headed up by Nick Wood SC can guarantee victory this time.
Australia grants close to absolute power to its Immigration Minister and the amount of time Hawke spent reaching the decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa, suggests a man ensuring the dotting and crossing of every I and T. Not to mention the even greater care taken over each F and O.
Yet if Djokovic is doomed in his battle against unflinching state power, do not forget who brought us here. Djokovic wanted to play in Australia but he did not want to play by Australia’s rules. He was a truth seeker, who did not seem entirely married to the truth. And he was on a quest for justice, and the good of society, while reserving the right to behave as he damn well pleased.
So while it has not been a great week for governance, from the borders to the ministry, it has been worse for the world’s finest tennis player and self-appointed champion of the unvaccinated masses.
The World No 1 is determined to not give up is Australian Open chances without a fight
What Djokovic hoped would be viewed as a principled stand disintegrated as so much of his case for entry crumbled. He made public appearances when he should have been in quarantine, his application said he had not travelled when he had, even his positive test contained confusing anomalies, on analysis. The QR code read negative sometimes, positive others.
There seemed to be confusion over dates. Djokovic went from appearing an innocent victim of Australia’s cold, faceless immigration system, to a visitor who was looking to game it. Playing on his fame, to gain special treatment. And that is a terrible look, to the majority.
‘What more could this man have done?’ implored a sympathetic Justice Kelly, at the start of the week. Plenty, it transpires. He could have stayed home, when he tested positive. He could have worn a mask. He could have taken responsibility for filling in, or at least overseeing, his immigration forms so no convenient whereabouts errors were made.
Most of all, like 97 per cent of his contemporaries, he could have got vaccinated as Australia requires, or stayed away, as several have. He chose another path and it is one that has led us to here.
Djokovic had the choice between getting vaccinated or staying away from Australia (pictured: the Serbian boarding his flight to Melbourne earlier this month)
The government’s mistake was not seeing what was coming. Not realising that the moment they made an exception of the most prominent anti-vaxxer on the planet, they risked his presence dividing their community. This is the conclusion minister Hawke appears finally to have reached and it is the one Djokovic’s counsel will go after this weekend. After all, as was argued yesterday, there is no proof the anti-vax community will be any less vocal or volatile if Djokovic leaves the country.
The damage is done and many will almost certainly still protest on his behalf. If anything, it might be argued, the best chance of keeping the peace is to let him stay. Nothing will ‘excite anti-vax sentiment’ more surely than deportation.
Yet that ignores the depth of feeling against Djokovic now. Protesters make noise, but it is the silent majority that are at home, fuming. And these are the people prime minister Scott Morrison needs for re-election. The harm that has been done by the steady drip-drip of Djokovic’s missteps and deception, intentional or not, are what he cannot ignore.
Either way, if Djokovic appears on a tennis court this week, the mood will be riotous. Enraged Serbian exiles and anti-government, anti-vax protesters on one side, a majority of Melburnians on the other. Even his famous gesture, in which he mimes throwing out his heart to the crowd, will appear hostile to some after his public appearances while positive. What is he sending: love, or infection?
Should Djokovic play in next week’s tournament, there will likely be outrage in the stands
There are plenty of precedents for barring visitors in the name of good order, as Hawke intends, too. David Icke is currently banned from Australia for comments considered to deny the Holocaust, while Kent Heckenlively, a controversial American author, and Polly Tommey, allegedly an expert on autism, are both banned for promoting views against vaccination.
The idiot Katie Hopkins bragged publicly about flouting quarantine rules and got thrown out. Having found time to veto these publicity-hungry nobodies, it beggars belief that a man of Djokovic’s profile and views was initially welcomed.
For one fact remains. Shortly before yesterday’s hearing — in effect, a meeting about another meeting — was adjourned, Justice Kelly said that Covid has had a huge impact on the lives of people in Australia and throughout the world, in terms of physical and mental health, and economics.
Vaccination rules, therefore, were a matter of public policy. This was why he wanted the case heard at a higher court. But his words spoke of more, too. They spoke of the outrage that is felt over those who do not play fair, over those who place others at risk, who want to live by their own rules. We have that outrage here around party season at No 10. To the majority of Australians, the same selfishness is encapsulated in Djokovic.
Djokovic tried to play the nice guy in his L’Equipe interview debacle – but made things worse
Take his explanation for skipping quarantine to attend an interview and photoshoot with the French sports newspaper L’Equipe, and for not wearing a mask for some of the interaction. Djokovic said he did not want to let the journalist down. He played the nice guy.
Yet there is not a sportswriter or photographer on the planet who would not understand the need to rearrange that engagement. Not one who would not accept contracting Covid as the most legitimate reason to postpone.
Journalists have spent all year wearing masks, obeying yellow, green and red zones in arenas, conducting interviews via Zoom. And Djokovic will know this. He will have seen tennis writers socially distanced, he will be aware of areas that are intended for competitors alone, he will have spoken on Zoom to those working from home or in distant media rooms.
It is unfathomable that a sense of duty compelled him to meet media while potentially infectious with Covid. Serbian law at the time dictated that he should have been in quarantine, across a period of 14 days. It is risible to argue that he kept the appointment out of the goodness of his heart.
Against this backdrop, then, on Sunday, Djokovic will enter round three at Federal Court. Both sides are sure of their case. Whether Djokovic wins or loses, though, reputationally, he looks lost.