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  • Writer's pictureCrisis Shield

The Curious Case of 'Novax' Novak

Photo credit: Unknown

Who would have thought that in the midst of the worst COVID outbreak in the world (thanks Omicron) there would be an even bigger story plastered across the international media?

Djokovic has always been a controversial figure in the sports world, a reputation which was further cemented when he came out as being opposed to vaccination early last year (before COVID vaccines had even become available). The last few months have been full of speculation as to whether the World No.1 would be able to compete in the Australian Open, given Australia’s current border requirement for all international travellers to be fully vaccinated to enter the country without quarantine (unless they have a medical exemption).

However, news broke last month that a small number of players and staff for the Australian Open were permitted such medical exemptions to enter the country unvaccinated and without quarantine, which meant the Serb would likely also be allowed in. A couple of weeks later, it seemed that this speculation had been proven correct, with Djokovic posting on social media that he had received a medical exemption from both Tennis Australia and the Victorian State Government and would be flying to Australia early last week.

However, in a bizarre turn of events, the ABF rejected his visa at Melbourne Airport and instead shipped him off to be detained at the infamous Park Hotel in Carlton, which has had a litany of bad press over the past two years with refugees and asylum seekers being kept there in terrible conditions.

The optics of the current number one tennis player in the world being bundled into a prisoner transport van and lodged in a refugee hotel is not good; in fact, it couldn’t get much worse. The old cliché that any publicity is good publicity doesn’t stack up on this occasion.

Whether this about-face from the Australian government was because of public backlash, bad communication between the various state and federal governmental and sporting agencies, or simply because Djokovic’s team really hadn’t filled out the correct paperwork, we may never know. (And why he had to fly halfway around the world before anybody seemed to double check if there might be any issues is beyond us).

But it’s certainly interesting to see how it has escalated from a problem of bureaucratic visa mismanagement, and the difficulties of managing COVID-19 rules and restrictions on an international level, into shining a spotlight onto Australia’s bad track record of (mis)treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

This bureaucratic blunder further highlights the poor relationship between the Victorian State and Federal political leaders. It’s no surprise that the pandemic response over the last two years has been such a disaster; lack of availability of vaccines, constant confusion over COVID restrictions and rules (especially between states), and, most recently, a lack of availability of both PCR and rapid antigen tests when a negative test result is required to enter many states and workplaces.

It’s fair to say that the rules seemed to be very clear in December 2021; to enter Australia from overseas, you needed to be fully vaccinated with a TGA-approved vaccine or have a medical exemption. How did that become unclear? The outcome of the court case may shed some urgently needed light on this!

Here’s hoping at least one good thing comes out of this saga – could Novak use this opportunity to give some much-needed media attention to the plight of refugees in this country?


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