Tennis isn’t everything
The sorry saga of World Number One (yes, it is standard to write each word in capitals in the world of men’s professional tennis) Novak Djokovic firstly being given entry to the Australian Open tournament and then denied by Border Control has been widely discussed around the world. Days later, the court overturned the decision and Djokovic is apparently now free to try and earn his 21st Grand Slam title.
My vantage point is as an Australian who has lived in France for the past three years and Switzerland for eight years before that. Tennis was my favourite sport to play in country South Australia as I grew up, then as a winter sport as an adult in Adelaide and each Grand Slam was eagerly anticipated, if not the late nights and far-too-early mornings for the French, Wimbledon and US events.
But the pandemic not only restricted our movements at home and abroad, but also reduced the usual excitement for big sporting events. Think Tokyo 2020 (delayed until 2021), EUFA European Football Championship 2020 (delayed also) and the Australian Open 2020. Djokovic won that last one and was in line for the Golden Slam in 2021 until he lost to Spain’s Pablo Carrena-Busta in the semi-final, throwing his racquet into the empty, Covid-safe stands. He then claimed a shoulder injury and withdrew from the mixed doubles bronze medal playoff, denying his partner Nina Stojanovic the chance to play for a medal.
Later in 2021, Daniil Medvedev defeated Djokovic at the US Open, stealing away Djokovic’s first calendar year grand slam but earning himself a small (by his standards) USD $5,000 fine for smashing his racquet. I suspect I was not the only one who experienced a tiny rush of schadenfreude at this misfortune. In a press conference in November, he remained vague about his vaccination status and when asked if he would play at the Australian Open, merely said, “We’ll have to wait and see.”
Tournament Director for the AO, Craig Tiley allegedly said in November 2021 that time was running out for Djokovic to receive the Covid vaccination and be allowed to play, yet, as we all know, he was granted a medical exemption and happily announced that he was coming to Melbourne to defend his Australian Open crown.
Yet again, as an Australian who has not been permitted to travel back home due to severe border restrictions, unavailable flights and advice from DFAT, I see 2022 sliding down the same depressing rabbit hole. My parents are both 81 years old, and I yearn to see them. My husband’s father died in 2020 when Australia’s borders were closed to everyone, including Australians. Even if he had been ‘lucky’ (what a word to use when describing a death in the family) enough to have been granted permission to fly to Australia, he would then have had to undergo a mandatory, self-funded two week quarantine in a government-approved hotel, thus missing the funeral he’d been given permission to enter Australia to attend.
The ‘rules for elite tennis players’ versus ‘rules for the rest of us’ approach by either the Victorian government, federal government or Tennis Australia is the figurative straw that has broken this tired old camel’s back. It has served (pun intended) as a glaring example of elitism and the vast over-valuing of sports players who excel at hitting a fuzzy ball but display none of the other qualities that define sportsmanship — humility, consideration of others or being part of a team with equal representation. It has quite rightly made a mockery of Australia as a nation with some of the strictest border restrictions in the world but one that eagerly bends backwards to accommodate an overpaid athlete who allegedly attended a launch of a Serbian postage stamp last month whilst unmasked and infected with Covid.
Djokovic’s visa debacle slaps back at the three funerals I’ve ‘attended’ online, the two Christmases spent on our own, the 6pm curfews, lockdowns, cancelled events and personal family celebrations missed out on. I don’t hit a fuzzy yellow ball much these days, let alone at ATP level, yet recognise that being double vaccinated and boosted means that I’m helping protect others in society, if not myself.
I’m angry at anti-vaxxers that are stubbornly refusing to do the right thing for the good of the rest of the world, for the less robust, or those with pre-existing conditions, or the elderly. I’m sick of hearing that they’re ‘doing their own research’ whilst negating the decades of knowledge, qualifications and experience of epidemiologists and vaccine scientists. I’m frustrated with the flaccid argument against charging unvaccinated patients who take up hospital beds and treatments by inanely comparing them to the obese or those suffering from smoking-induced cancers or alcoholism. Those diseases are addictions and/or self-inflicted and do not place other people’s lives at risk.
I’m tired at having my hopes raised of being able to phone my parents to let them know I’ll be booking a flight home to Australia to see them in the flesh for the first time since 2019, only to have my hopes dashed time and time again. Of course, I will adhere to and respect the travel restrictions and health requirements but to see 2022 dissolve into a repeat of 2020 and 2021 because of people’s refusal to get a quick couple of jabs in their arm is beyond frustrating. It’s selfish, cruel and needless.
May Djokovic lose in the first round. It’s the only bright flicker of hope so far this year.