Lisa Fallon: Having to quarantine in another country no walk in the park

The pandemic continues to play havoc with the world of sport – as Djokovic has discovered

Being detained in quarantine abroad is a very different experience to quarantining in your own home.

Trust me, I know.

The storm around Novak Djokovic's denied entry to Australia demonstrates that despite being granted a vaccine exemption to participate in the Australian Open, government law (heavily assisted by public opinion) can and will overturn such an exemption, and the Serbian tennis star is now in a hotel room awaiting the outcome of an appeal, which will be heard on Monday.

I also relate to the feeling of helplessness the world number one might be feeling right about now.


Whilst the reasons for Djokovic’s medical exemption were not disclosed, there was great public resistance to it in Australia and the government there has been resolute in their decision to deny his entry and insist on mandatory quarantine in a federal government facility.

Last month, over in Qatar for the Arab Cup, I ended up having to quarantine in another government facility after testing positive for the virus in my pre-departure PCR. It came as a huge shock to the system, particularly as I was asymptomatic.

The process of ‘detainment’ is unsettling. You are whisked away to the facility, no longer making decisions on your own terms because you simply must go. Regardless of where you are from, or what passport you possess, you immediately fall under the control of the government of the country you are in, a government that has restrictions in place because they are trying to protect their own people from the spread of the virus.

You definitely feel vulnerable.

If English is not the local language, and if you do not have a good grasp of the native tongue, getting information can feel slow and frustrating and this adds to the anxiety you feel, particularly if you are far from home as Christmas looms.

I had an apartment and got three meals a day and could order food in from the local supermarkets or food outlets. They encouraged daily exercise and you could go out for walks at your leisure, as everyone in the block was in the same situation.

Relying on hot-spotting from your mobile phone for wifi access, forced some decisions: Choosing between streaming on Netflix to try to pass the endless hours or saving it to call home and stay in touch with the family and the outside world? It's a social and emotional detachment that makes 'isolation' really feel like isolation. The voices from home always won.

I’ll never take internet access for granted again.

There can be no exemptions in that situation. It must be the same rule for everyone and it was. For natives, visitors, sports people, politicians; there were people there from all walks of life and different nationalities.

Getting home

Once you accept the situation (which can be the hardest part), what keeps you going is the outcome, getting home. You quickly stop thinking about the events you are missing and think about the people you are missing. You get a very raw opportunity to, once again, appreciate what really makes you happy.

You are grateful that you are not sick, and that you are fortunate enough to be vaccinated and able to reassure everyone at home that you are well, and every day is one closer to getting home. You have to focus on the things you will do when you get there, as oppose to things you can’t do when you are not there.

The first couple of days were the hardest, because that’s when I felt most vulnerable and it’s when you feel the concentrated and repeated anguish of the reality of the situation. Every time you have to explain to people close to you that you can’t get home, it creates a volcano of emotion but you have to control that, because you also have to focus on trying to stay healthy.

You can be thankful the test spotted you, when you may never have known you had the virus and inadvertently passed it on to someone else, who may not have been so fortunate.

The rules in one country are different to the rules in others and, in making the decision to travel, then you have a responsibility to understand and respect the rules of the country you are travelling to.

Whilst we love our sport and place great importance on winning, we must never lose the human factor when it comes to showing respect and understanding in relation to dealing with the virus and how it affects people.

Djokovic’s decision on his own vaccination status is personal, but the refusal of his entry to Australia is not. What we want in life, is not always the same as what’s right.

Anyway, I’m home but 2021 showed me that 2022 will be a continuation of navigating the unpredictable pandemic waters.

Presence felt

A look at any of the main sporting headlines over the last few weeks is a reminder to us all that Covid-19 is still making its presence felt. Football matches continue to be cancelled as record numbers of players and playing staff in the Premier League and EFL are affected by the virus.

With the numbers high among the general public, and while acknowledging that we don’t want to keep talking about it, it’s remiss to ignore it because the impact continues to be genuinely real.

Again, acceptance is the hardest step.

Most League of Ireland teams began their pre-season training this week but the reality is that some of football's new norms will likely still apply heading into another campaign.

Modifications such as training grid sizes and timings calculated to maintain safe distances between players and minimal close contact exposure, like travelling on two buses to games with players divided by position. One goalkeeper on one bus, the other on the second bus and the same for all positions so that if one bus was stricken, you could still get a team out to play.

Making the adjustments needed to create protected environments domestically is one thing but when you have to factor in travelling abroad, it can be a different entity entirely.

It’s a heavy work load too. Paperwork, tests, visas, bubbles, vaccinations are all part of the modern sporting passport to travel, even exemptions, but in an ever-changing environment, your expectations for sports travel might not be the same at your departure point, as they end up being on arrival, or at the time of the return journey. You have to be prepared for that and you must respect it. We all do.

Novak Djokovic included.