Australians are huge tennis fans but they have sent away Novak Djokovic before he could set foot at the Australian Open, shattering his dream to win a record 21st Grand Slam title or beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer with whom he is currently tied for the most men’s singles titles at 20. He was the favorite going in. Not only did he seal a third consecutive win at Melbourne Park last year, he has won here nine times overall.
But we are now in a time of expanding vaccine mandates and Djokovic is not vaccinated. Indeed he has quite a global reputation as an anti-vaxxer. He arrived in Australia with a medical exemption for both vaccination and quarantine. But even as both Team Australia and Victoria State were defending the exemption, locals who have seen over 250 days of lockdown were raising an outcry over it. Sending Djokovic back soothes this outcry but questions remain about why some local authorities vigorously defended the exemption while others rejected it equally vigorously. It speaks to a worldwide woe of individuals caught between different and even contradictory rules and regulations as they navigate international and other borders during the pandemic.
Above all, of course this episode underlines that from playing in sports tournaments to attending them, and a host of other facilities and services, access is going to be increasingly restricted only to those who are fully vaccinated, whether this means two doses or three or even four. It also takes place in the backdrop of Serbia, which is very proud of its tennis hero but also suffers high vaccine hesitancy, having achieved only 46.5% full vaccination, low compared to many of its European neighbors. Bottomline is that exceptions to celebrities send out the wrong message and therefore one less exception is that much better for the pandemic-hit world.
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