There were few tears shed in Australia over Djokovic’s absence

The final images from the aborted trip by the World’s No. 1 tennis player, Novak Djokovic, to defend his Australian Open title in Melbourne were fittingly awful.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 21st January 2022, 4:28 pm
Updated Friday, 21st January 2022, 5:17 pm
For all his undoubted talents, Djokovic’s behaviour in following the rules did not endear him to the Australian public – or the authorities. Pic: Ian Rutherford.
For all his undoubted talents, Djokovic’s behaviour in following the rules did not endear him to the Australian public – or the authorities. Pic: Ian Rutherford.

Surrounded by burly security guards who rudely and aggressively pushed cameras and journalists aside, the Serb strode to the plane that took him away from the country where he had been an unwanted and unvaccinated presence for ten tense days.

Earlier that day three judges had decided that the Australian government had the legal right to withdraw his visa on the public interest grounds because of his refusal to accept Covid-19 vaccinations that would protect himself and the many people who throng around superstars.

The Conservative government led by Scott Morrison had got their man deported, but at a considerable political and reputational cost due to their incompetent and cack-handed political manoeuvring.

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Djokovic, one of the most talented humans to ever hold a tennis racket, was favourite to win his 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne edging him ahead of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, but he has also become an international poster boy for the bizarre Covid anti-vax protestors.

Assisted by Tennis Australia and the Victoria State government, he was somehow granted a visa that would have allowed him to compete, but his presence in a country that has endured some of the strictest anti-Covid measures in the world caused an outcry. Understandably so.

The Australia border had only opened to visitors who had family in the country in early November and we gladly grabbed the opportunity afforded to us to visit our daughter, Mairi Kate, who we had not seen for two long, Covid-restricted years.

Before we had left the plane that took us to Sydney, we got an early warning of how seriously and aggressively the Australians were defending their borders.

Speaking across the plane’s tannoy, a female Border Force officer told us in very brusque terms that if we didn’t follow the rules we would be arrested and deported.

In a confusing world where Covid rules were changing daily it was a slightly unnerving introduction to Down Under.

For the next four weeks, we followed the rules assiduously, queueing in the intense Sydney sunshine for over two hours to get our Day Six test.

Every restaurant, taxi and public space insisted on scanning their QR code at the entrance and most places wanted to see evidence of double vaccination. Very quickly it became routine and did not impede or restrict our emotional re-union or our ability to explore the beauty and many wonders of the country.

As we left Sydney the borders to Western Australia remain closed to international visitors and their own countrymen.

This is the reality of Australia and the context that explains the almost universal opposition to the presence of an unpopular, swaggering, and deliberately unvaccinated multi-millionaire who thought he could circumvent the rules imposed on everyone else by being famous, handy with a racket and by telling lies on his visa application form.

Given the rapid reach of global news the aggressive, overblown language from his objectionable father, who claimed he was being tortured in detention, did nothing to endear Djokovic to the Australian public or to his fellow players who had quickly tired of the political, legal and media circus that was diverting attention away from the tournament.

So, the Australian Open began without the man who has won the title a record nine times and his unvaccinated body looks set to be excluded from further Grand Slams.

Few tears will be shed in Australia over his absence, and I am with them.

We shed enough saying goodbye to Mairi Kate once again.