- ‘I feel sorry for him but he knew the conditions months ago’
- Djokovic detained in hotel until Monday for appeal hearing
Novak Djokovic’s ‘wildly anti-scientific’ beliefs laid bare
Novak Djokovic has been wildly panned for his anti-Covid vaccination stance, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for the World No. 1.
The ignominy of Novak Djokovic’s attempt to enter Australia to pursue a record 21st grand slam singles title was driven home on Thursday when Rafael Nadal responded to the world No 1’s visa cancellation by stressing the necessity of being vaccinated against Covid.
After spending his first night in Australia at the airport interrogated by border officials, Djokovic spent the second in a quarantine hotel awaiting a visa appeal hearing on Monday. It following an extraordinary day of rolling developments that involved the Serbian player at the centre of a diplomatic and political furore over the validity or not of his medical exemption from Covid-19 vaccination.
Nadal, however, saw it in simpler terms. Speaking after he successfully returned to competition for the first time since August with a straight sets win over Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, Nadal reiterated that the clearest way to ensure participation in Melbourne was through embracing vaccination and that Djokovic had known the conditions for many months.
“The only thing that I can say is I believe in what the people who know about medicine say, and if the people say that we need to get vaccinated, we need to get the vaccine. That’s my point of view,” said Nadal.
He continued: “I went through the Covid. I have been vaccinated twice. If you do this, you don’t have any problem playing here. That’s the only clear thing. The rest of the things, I don’t want to have or to give to you an opinion that I don’t have the whole information. The only clear thing for me is if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open and everywhere, and the world in my opinion have been suffering enough to not follow the rules.”
Nadal was later asked if he feels sorry for Djokovic given the torrid situation his rival is now in, but the Spaniard’s response indicated that his sympathy was limited. Nadal said that decisions come with consequences, as has been the case for Djokovic after his decision to fly to Melbourne despite being unvaccinated.
“I think if he wanted, he would be playing here in Australia without a problem. He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences. Of course I don’t like the situation that is happening. In some way I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision.
Despite the federal government’s decision to remove Djokovic’s visa after deeming his medical exemption insufficient, Djokovic will remain in Melbourne as he awaits the outcome of his legal appeal following the cancellation of his visa on Thursday morning in Melbourne.
Djokovic’s court case, presided over by Judge Anthony Kelly, was delayed throughout the day until at 6pm. His urgent appeal in the federal court was held via video call on Thursday afternoon before the hearing was adjourned until 10am on Monday, where there will be a full hearing to determine Djokovic’s presence in Melbourne.
An interim court order was later established, ensuring that Djokovic cannot be deported from Australia until after the hearing on Monday. While his challenge could reach the high court, time is extremely limited as the Australian Open begins in 11 days on 17 January.
After being told that Tennis Australia needed confirmation of its entrants before a certain date, Kelly said the timeline would not be dictated by others. “The tail won’t be wagging the dog here,” Kelly said. “If Tennis Australia decides to do what it wants to do in running its enterprise, it will. All I can do is provide every facility available to this court to assist these parties to resolve it in the best way possible.”
Djokovic is staying at an immigration hotel in Melbourne, the Park Hotel, which is notorious for holding asylum seekers. Thirty six asylum seekers are currently in the hotel and some have been detained for over eight years. Djokovic’s presence there produced an unusual spectacle as some of his fans gathered around the hotel in support of him while activists used the spotlight on the hotel to protest the treatment received by asylum seekers. “The real crime at the Park Hotel is the ongoing and arbitrary detention of 36 medevac refugees for more than eight years now,” said Refugee Action Collective Victoria, in a statement.
Earlier on Thursday, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, placed the blame for Djokovic’s visa mix-up on Victoria state. Djokovic is said to have attained his medical exemption by citing a Covid-19 infection over the past six months. However a letter was apparently sent to Tennis Australia officials in November indicating that the federal government would not recognise unvaccinated passengers and that those who had been infected with Covid in the past six months would not be considered fully vaccinated.
“People must be fully vaccinated as defined by Atagi [the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation] to gain quarantine-free entry into Australia,” Morrison said. “That means people who do not meet the definition will not be approved for quarantine-free entry.
“Entry with a visa requires double vaccination, or a medical exemption. I am advised that such an exemption was not in place and as a result he is subject to the same rule as anyone else. This is nothing about any one individual, it is simply a matter of following the rules.”
Later in the day, the health minister Martin Foley contested accusations that the Victorian government was responsible for the visa issue. Foley said that the federal government, not Victoria, issued the cancelled visa. “It doesn’t say ‘Victoria’ on the Australian passport. It says ‘Australia’. The Constitution makes it pretty clear that it is the Australian commonwealth that issues visas, although given how much the commonwealth seems pretty keen on outsourcing responsibility to the states on most things, who knows what the future will be? Someone issued Novak Djokovic a visa and it wasn’t the Victorian government.”
Should Djokovic be unable to reinstate his visa, Daniil Medvedev will be the top seed at the Australian Open. Medvedev spoke about the situation after play on Thursday. “It’s tough to say. If he had a fair exemption from the rule, well, he should be here; if he didn’t, he shouldn’t be here. To be honest, it sounds easy, but again, it seems very tough in real life.”
Djokovic reportedly arrived in Australia relying on the fact he had caught the virus within the past six months.
In a 2GB segment on Wednesday afternoon, 9 News political editor Chris O’Keefe revealed Tennis Australia approached the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) regarding Djokovic’s “natural immunity”, only to have it knocked back.
O’Keefe reported the belief that natural immunity from catching Covid is “recognised in several European countries, not recognised in Australia”.
While it is not publicly known if Djokovic had contracted Covid in the past six months, it is known that he and his wife Jelena caught the virus in 2020 after a tennis exhibition series he organised in Serbia and Croatia.
Djokovic’s ill-fated Adria Tour saw players including Croatia’s Borna Coric, Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria and Viktor Troicki also test positive after the players were seen partying and exercising without social distancing or regard for medical advice.
The World No. 1 initially expressed his regret but was widely slammed.
At the time, Rothenberg said the tennis star’s “scepticism of science” no doubt contributed to his decision to push forward with the tournament during a global pandemic.
“I think that Djokovic’s health opinions and views are probably a part of this; he has been sceptical about a vaccine,” he told OTB Sports.
“He has brought all kinds of weird pseudoscience people on his channels, bringing on all kinds of strange gurus to talk about changing water with positive thinking and things like that.
“The scepticism of science did him no favours here. When he talks about veganism and meditation, that is completely fine and is his prerogative to do.
“When he starts preaching more things that could be misleading and dangerous to people … is not a positive thing to be doing with his platform.”