Credit: Novak Djokovic via Instagram

Where’s Australia’s apology to Novak Djokovic?

A year after being deported from Australia for being unvaccinated against Covid-19 –  and by effect deemed a ‘threat to public health’ – tennis superstar Novak Djokovic slammed to victory at the Australian Open on Sunday. The victorious Serb beat Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets in Melbourne to win the tournament; in the process clinching his 22nd Grand Slam Title, and reclaiming the World No. 1 ranking from Carlos Alcaraz.

After setbacks which could have kept him down, the win leaves a starry-eyed Djokovic level with long-standing rival, Spaniard Rafael Nadal, and quite literally, on top of the world. But more than that, the victory afforded the tennis icon a chance to savour the sweet taste of revenge, played out in a country whose authorities treated him with contempt for his medical status only a year ago. His supporters are savouring the triumph which was literally impossible for Djokovic because of his vaccination status only 12 months ago.

In the tennis star’s native Serbia, the Covid immunisation rate stands at roughly 50 per cent. Djokovic, until it came to the crunch, declined to reveal his vaccination status, insisting that everyone should have the freedom to choose whether or not to take a vaccine for Covid. 

Like many Serbs, he never expressed outright opposition to the vaccines since their rollout, and largely refused to engage with the whole issue. It’s easy to understand then, why he gained support from all kinds of people over the whole sorry fiasco, and why so many felt, and now feel in hindsight, that he was being held unfairly to account. 

There’s no doubt that despite his victory at the weekend, he paid a dizzyingly high price for his non-compliance and for what should have been a personal decision, an exercise in autonomy. 

While some now want to forget what happened and settle on enjoying his hard-won victory, a reminder of the way Djokovic was treated is important, because ‘man needs more to be reminded than to be instructed’. Will the world simply forget what happened to Djokovic now he’s World Number One? 

Or is it just a matter of time before we see the same thing repeated all over again? The Djokovic saga is still a timely one – because at present, travel mandates are still law in places, despite all the information we have on how Covid vaccines do not prevent transmission. And despite most world governments having shifted to adopt a ‘post-pandemic’ response. At present, if you’re unvaccinated, you simply cannot enter the United States, and you won’t have been able to do so for the last two years. 

The Djokovic saga all started on January 4 2022, when he published an Instagram post with a photo of himself, bags packed, about to board a series of flights from Spain to Melbourne. 

“I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission,” he declared.

But following public outcry over what was seen as his flouting of Australia’s vaccine mandate at the border he was stopped in his tracks. He became the perfect scapegoat for a frustrated Australian public stuck in a long lockdown. It also presented an irresistible political opportunity to make an example of one of the world’s most high-profile athletes. 

In the words of his own father: “They wanted to break him and destroy him, to show through him that they can do whatever they want”.

What resulted was his detention at the Australian border. Djokovic was of course later deported, but only after a week of detention, international pressure, court appeals, and the perfect media storm which often seemed designed to humiliate the athlete. His tennis stardom was turned against him, and there can be no doubt he was poorly treated by the Australian authorities. A two-tier society separating the vaccinated and the unvaccinated was very much there for all to see. 

And all for what? Doesn’t Australia owe Djokovic an apology? His transformation from villain to victor, all while remaining unvaccinated, makes it clear he was never really a ‘threat to public health’. This wasn’t about public health. It was about control.

At a minimum, we can say with confidence that Covid vaccines did not work as they were intended to work –  and as they were persistently advertised to work in public health messaging. So what was the threat Djokovic posed to “public health and civic society?” 

To go a step further, it’s also a fact that we are hearing from individuals who have suffered from sometimes debilitating, life-altering vaccine injuries. In the UK, a Government report released last summer said more than 2,200 Britons may have lost their lives because of vaccine-induced injuries. 

Vaccine injuries have also come to public awareness in Australia since last January. One of the most recent being that of high-profile Australian doctor Kerryn Phelps, who this month detailed “the horrific side effects” in an interview with Daily Mail Australia about her battle with a debilitating Covid vaccine injury. The Daily Mail stated, “She is one of thousands of Australians who suffer devastating long-term side effects, but feel like the government and medical regulators deny it’s happening”.

Any reasonable person will understand that a professional athlete, someone who relies on their body for a living, should have had the right to do their own research, weigh up the odds, and make a personal decision without being persecuted and restricted for doing so.

Revisiting the treatment of Djokovic, it remains remarkable how a man deemed an international danger this time last year, was able to participate without glitch 12 months on, without taking a vaccine he did not want, and without bowing down to the mob.

During his detention, it is understood that the Australian Border Force seized his mobile phone for three hours while he was left without his wallet and personal belongings for at least 24 hours. When he requested to quarantine along with his travelling companions at a rented apartment, the request was denied, and he ended up having to be isolated at a refugee hotel – where residents had previously complained about maggot-infested food. 

His mother said at the time that he was unable to sleep, and a stressed and exhausted Djokovic became the astonishing target of a tsunami of global ridicule – and often condemnation. All because of his vaccination status.

But, as Frank Sinatra says, success is always the best revenge. Despite being treated like a criminal for his personal medical choices, Novak Djokovic’s revenge was to come back and win again. Whatever your stance on Covid vaccines, I think it’s a lesson in moral courage, and the value of resilience and standing your ground.  It seems Novak’s revenge tour is only just beginning.

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