As a tennis enthusiast and an ardent supporter of Novak Djokovic, I watched, along with hundreds of millions of others worldwide, as the Australian visa saga unfolded. Naturally, I was deeply disappointed by the decision to deport him and prevent him from trying to win the coveted 21st Grand Slam.
The arbitrary, dogmatic and ridiculous conduct of the Australian government in this matter raises quite a few questions.
First, why was Djokovic’s visa revoked only after he arrived in the country when he had presented the required medical exemption based on the opinion of two independent expert panels, having recently recovered from COVID-19? Moreover, if he indeed did not have the necessary documents, how did Australian border authorities at the airport even allow him to board the flight?
Other tennis players in similar circumstances were not denied a visa. Was there selective enforcement at play?
It stands to reason that the local government decided to take action against Djokovic upon learning of his arrival, in the face of the Australian public’s growing resentment over its problematic COVID policy. This cynical, populist act was most likely also aimed at marking political gains ahead of the upcoming general election.
Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s argument that Djokovic was “a threat to public health” does not coincide with the data, which suggests that the chances of an individual who has recovered from COVID-19 getting infected again and infecting others are significantly lowered. Presumably, this was the rationale upon which Djokovic was granted a medical exemption to play in the Australian Open in the first place.
It is also hard to understand the specific concern that he posed a threat, especially when considering that the vaccines are inherently less effective against the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus (Australia recently recorded 100,000 cases in 24 hours), and even more so when considering that Djokovic was supposed to spend most of his time in quarantine-like conditions.
What is even more interesting is that former Australian Deputy Immigration Minister Abul Rizvi said that during his 10-year tenure, there was only a single case(!) of a visa revoked upon entry over health issues. The individual involved was infected with tuberculosis.
The claim that allowing Djokovic entry would have encouraged the anti-vaccination movement is also baseless, as Djokovic has never publicly called on anyone not to be vaccinated.
It is convenient to make Novak a scapegoat for his part in the affair, due to his controversial conduct with respect to the coronavirus and various incidents in which he was involved on and off the tennis court (because even the greatest tennis player in the world is only human). However, he deserves full credit—not the disrespect shown by most of his peers on the tour—for his principled adherence to natural healing, proper nutrition, mental health, etc., which he has applied only to himself.
Djokovic’s principled positions will only enhance his tremendous legacy, especially in light of his philanthropic endeavors with respect to his consistent support of young tennis players, improving conditions in the industry, and his generous contributions to charity.
Beyond the irrational conduct of the Australian government, it was disappointing to see the hostile attitude the majority of the local population showed regarding Djokovic. Instead of embracing him and awarding him the Order of Australia for his unique contribution over the years to enhancing the country’s image worldwide, he was treated as an enemy of the people.
I am confident that Djokovic will still have his chance to cement his status as the greatest tennis player of all time, in order to fulfill the goal for which he was sucked “Down Under” this month.
Professor Emeritus Nathan Netanyahu is an artificial intelligence researcher at the Department of Computer Science at Bar-Ilan University.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.