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The Australian government’s decision to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa has triggered a wave of support from a COVID-weary global public, as well as fresh condemnation from the player’s dedicated fans.
After Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision focused attention on the world’s No.1’s longstanding views on the vaccine and the pandemic, many of Djokovic’s fellow Serbian citizens were critical of Australia.
Lightning rod: Novak Djokovic plays a backhand during practice.Credit:Getty Images
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, on social media, asked: “If you wanted to forbid Novak Djokovic to win the [Australian Open] trophy for the 10th time, why didn’t you return him immediately, why didn’t you tell him that it was impossible to get a visa?
“Why do you mistreat him, why do you harass him, as well as his family and a nation that is free and proud?”
The Serbian Tennis Federation said the decision of Australian authorities to cancel Djokovic’s visa was a result of political pressure.
The federation said denying the nine-time Australian Open champion the right to play was “unacceptable for the entire sports world on the planet and contradicts the sacred Olympic principles, which are well known”.
“The new visa cancellation, caused by political pressures, has led to a new dragging of not only the Serbian, but also the world sports ace through courts and detention,” it said.
Serbian Aleksandar Petrovic told Reuters, “Australians are dragging him around like an old rag … they are ready to burn world’s No.1 because of politics.”
“He won nine grand slams (in Australia) and they are treating him like some wretched migrant because of their own problems,” said Djordje Simic.
But reaction was decidedly less supportive of Djokovic elsewhere.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.Credit:AP
Washington Post columnist Max Boot expressed frustration with Djokovic’s anti-vaccination sentiment, “If Djokovic wants to continue playing tennis, he needs to get vaccinated — and to stop trying to circumvent the pandemic requirements that apply to everyone else.
“He needs to decide if he is going to be the No.1 men’s tennis player in the world or the No.1 anti-vaxxer. He can’t be both.”
Germany’s Der Spiegel wrote: “With his attempt to play in the Australian Open as a committed anti-vaxxer, and with his subsequent battle with immigration authorities, Djokovic has become a hero to corona truthers and conspiracy theorists around the world – and a pariah for all those who side with science and see vaccination as the only way out of this accursed pandemic.”
Others saw larger changes afoot in the Djokovic saga. Simon Briggs of The Telegraph of London, wrote that “the lessons of recent history suggest that the wealthy and powerful are increasingly able to bend reality to their will. But perhaps the pandemic offers a shift in this trend.”
“Everyone has had to make some kind of sacrifice in the last couple of years. And with his science-free ramblings and wilful disregard of safety protocols, Djokovic has become a lightning rod for the frustrations of Australia – the world’s most locked-down nation.
Even within Serbia, support for Djokovic was far from universal.
“Their country, their rules,” Jovo Tadic said in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital. “If Australia tells you to get vaccinated to enter, do it – or face problems.”
The holder of 20 Grand Slam titles is revered as Serbia’s greatest athlete, but many in Belgrade say his refusal to be vaccinated may now blight his career.
“I think he’ll have a problem in other tournaments as it seems vaccination will be mandatory for all of them … he’ll have to do it if he wants to stay at the top,” said Belgrader Marko Stanic.
Although Djokovic has not campaigned against vaccination, he has spoken about the benefits of alternative approaches to health and nutrition.
“He can either vaccinate to remain world No.1 – or he can be stubborn and end his career,” said Ana Bojic.
Australia has endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns and has seen a sharp spike in cases due to the Omicron variant.
Closer to home, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took a sceptical view of the Morrison government’s timing.
“What a surprise! Morrison’s govt cancels #Djokovic’s visa to win the weekend media cycle—showing us all how hairy chested he is. Why on earth did they issue the visa in the first place? One big political distraction from empty shelves & the national shortage of boosters & RATs,” he said in a tweet.
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