Novak Djokovic, the world number one lawn tennis pro, spent part of last week as the guest of the Australian immigration authorities instead of the Australian tennis fraternity, which is hosting the Australian Open championship that he has won nine times and was expecting to defend for another world record.
It is an interesting story in that it is about money, ambition and the preparedness of people, who should know better, to exploit a situation.
Simply told, Djokovic, a Serbian national, is famously anti-vaccination and refuses to reveal his vaccination status.
Australia has a notoriously uncompromising stance on unvaccinated citizens and non-citizens entering the country. The government was as resolute as ours in locking out its own citizens during the worst period of the pandemic last year and it has a strict double vaccination policy, which it enforces.
Notwithstanding that, the star managed to procure a medical exemption (for unspecified reasons) from being vaccinated, which enabled him to secure an entry visa.
Djokovic must be one of the fittest people on the planet and treats his body like a well-oiled machine. One, therefore, cannot but raise an eyebrow over his having any medical condition that would prevent him being vaccinated. For sure there was incredulity and a quiet backlash brewing among some Aussies and also a few peeved, fully vaxxed international competitors who felt the star lives by another set of rules, because when he turned up at Melbourne airport, he was detained for an error on his visa.
Exactly what the detail might be is still unknown as I write, but the matter quickly escalated into a national embarrassment for the Australian government, and even into an international incident, with the Australian Prime Minister and the Serbian President both making bold, uncompromising statements to the world’s media.
The former may be on the losing side, since he has an election coming up and the situation appears to have been badly mishandled.
Even if, despite what has been described as an extremely rigorous process, Djokovic is suspected of having been dishonest in procuring the medical exemption, as has also been suggested by what must be another wing of Australian officialdom, it remains the case that the visa was granted by the Australian government and the question arises, how efficient is that government when its immigration policies and procedures are so haphazard?
Can the government disregard the fact that independent medical panels were appointed by Tennis Australia, which organises the championship, and the state of Victoria gave the concession?
Maybe the provincial government was deliberately rattling the cage of the federal government for purely political reasons; maybe it is correct that Tennis Australia ignored Australia Border Force rules for entry and withheld advice from Victoria State.
For his part, the Prime Minister saw an opportunity to make border control and foreigners the usual election time bobolee, and it might just come back to bite him.
Certainly, it all is yet another cause of division in a time defined by schisms and polarisation, and by selfishness and unreason. The source is just one person wanting to have his cake and eat it. Devoutly unvaccinated people may prove to have been right in the long run if they were lucky enough not to contract the virus, and they are free to live according to their beliefs, but there are consequences for our decisions and those must be accepted. Djokovic has not accepted the logic of his ideological stance and his desire to make a world record is so powerful that he sought to enter a country fabled for its hostility to the unvaccinated.
However, Djokovic is not the only person at fault, Tennis Australia should not have been prepared to facilitate and accept an exemption from an internationally acknowledged non-vaxxer when it could lead to mayhem, which it has done. They probably were blindsided by the prospect of profit margins shrinking if the world-record holder was not there to attract the maximum audiences for his matches.
The whole matter is rife with people making bad judgements. The pandemic has revealed that our worst instincts as human beings are fully intact regardless of how advanced our science becomes.
In TT, the dishonesty is quite staggering with regard to beating the pandemic rules and exploiting others. I mislaid my original vaccination card and eventually sought the help of someone who knew someone in the Health Ministry to expedite its replacement. It was a slow, annoying process that included reporting the card lost to the police, but I had not appreciated that there is a lucrative trade in the issuance of false vaccination cards – a non-vaxxed person could get one for $2,000. People are falsifying PCR test results, medical staff circulate in full knowledge that they are infectious, people are selling exorbitantly-priced oxygen equipment for home treatment and fake medication, and a litany of other rule infringements exist. But perhaps the source of greatest sadness is our union leaders, who appear to be exploiting workers instead of trying to educate them.