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Johnny Watterson: Lateral flow of time will expose Djokovic’s anti-vaxxer crusade

Federal government realised star’s sense of entitlement grated with Aussie public

Sometimes it feels like Novak Djokovic just can't catch a break. Over €154 million in prize money and a full-time public relations outfit at his back and he still can't get to first base on the 'normal guy' chart.

If Djokovic was on Celebrity Island you would vote him in every week for his ethereal weirdness but you’d never let him win. Call me a voyeur.

Alongside Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal at the bottle neck of 20 Grand Slams, his standalone off-court gift to the world has become less tennis and more big cheese with creepy sideshow trying to muscle his unvaccinated bag of bones into a country that doesn't want him.

It could prove to be his enduring image. The lateral flow of time will show that lacking self-awareness or kindred spirit has a corrosive effect on legacy.


Just as consuming a mindless two hours of Mission Impossible is difficult without a passing thought on the Tom Cruise schmooze with Scientology, so too will Djokovic's 21st Grand Slam, if it arrives, carry the story about his long and arduous crusade against the vaccine and modern science.

The current truth crisis, the elevation of artful pandering, dishonesty and science deniers like the tennis world number one have come to have us believe that a valid medical exemption from Covid-19 vaccination can be adherence to his special kind of homoeopathy – quaint, wholesome but mostly mysterious.

While there is something to be said for a natural jar of leeches or an astrological chart, their empirical effect on the world of live and die statistics is no moot point. The US in November reported around 33,000 Covid-19 deaths with estimates that 29,100 of them were among unvaccinated adults.

And the homeopathy doesn’t work as evidenced by Djokovic already having contracted Covid. Regardless of how often he claims that his alternative way of life greatly benefits him physically against Covid, it simply doesn’t. More importantly it doesn’t work for most developed countries that have a pandemic policy in place.

Now his individual freedom not to take the vaccine superseding other people’s individual freedom to stay healthy, or, even alive, has been called out by the Australian authorities and has made him a cause célèbre among certain factions.

And for his son's endeavour, his father Srdan did what many tennis dads have become famous for doing over the decades. He captured the zeitgeist of the fringe and perhaps the entire fan base of Serb football club Spartak Subotica.

“Tonight they can throw him in a dungeon, tomorrow they can put him in chains . . . Novak is the Spartacus of the new world which won’t tolerate injustice, colonialism and hypocrisy.”

Celebrity injustice

True that. Celebrity injustice hardly comes any worse than a budget hotel in the Melbourne quarantine zone, which is where the favourite for the Australian Open will reside over the weekend.

The overblown language belongs to those who see Djokovic as some kind of elevated body, a deity that deserves no less than the gates of the airport at Melbourne to open and allow him to walk through into a community that has suffered one of the longest lockdowns in the world.

His dad’s public makeover paints him as a glorious latter-day Thracian slave rebelling against the injustices of the Roman empire and probably hinders more than helps what is currently taking place.

That is an Australian government that at state level thought they had his waiver to play covered and a federal government reading the room and going with the flow of their voters. Seedy, but who can blame them?

The fault lies with the Australian politicians for allowing it get to this. One branch of government permitting Djokovic into the country only for another more powerful branch to probably throw him out next week has turned it into a gnarly shitshow.

It doesn’t matter that both sides are in the wrong. Victoria and the tennis authorities wanting Djokovic to play so badly that they were prepared to bend rules or at least overlook certain aspects of his entry, is more than that would have afforded mere mortals.

That grates with people, especially as they understand that the reason for Djokovic not getting vaccinated is because he doesn’t believe in it. He has said so for the last two years. He also doesn’t care too much about the sensibilities of Australians in severe lockdown or the politics of the country he is coming to visit. He just doesn’t care.

Now they are riding him hard like a stolen moped across the hotel car park where he is staying and the overarching sense is that a lot of people like Rafa Nadal are thinking it is all Djokovic’s own fault.

The timing too is uncanny as French president Emanuel Macron, this week, told Le Parisien newspaper he wanted to "piss off" unvaccinated people by making their lives so complicated they would end up getting jabbed.

Stuck in a hotel waiting on a court hearing next week is the unlikely embodiment of what Macron was saying.

A great player, Djokovic is also a strange guy and he's paying the price for that now. That's because with the strangeness comes a contempt. In the mood of the moment, that is seen as a threat to the health of others in Australia and he doesn't bother or is unable to take that on board. That's his failing and the people sense it.