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Tennis and Covid - "just want to get it resolved"

Who would have thought that the tennis world would serve up the perfect analogy for all the viewpoints and the divisions in society (in the world, to be precise) that have arisen as a result of the COVID pandemic? Consider the ongoing saga of the “is he in or is he out” of Novak Djokovic and the Australian Open tennis grand slam tournament.

It has now become common knowledge, as the Associated Press reports in too many articles to quote, that he applied to enter the Australian Open without a COVID vaccination and was granted a medical exemption by the tournament and the state of Victoria as he had apparently been infected with COVID in December 2021. However, the same rules did not appear to apply at the country level, and he was turned down as he tried to enter the country without vaccination papers or without a correct medical exemption for the country. It further has been revealed that there was some incorrect information on his entry forms regarding the fact that he actually did travel to another country (for which he now blames his handlers); and he also now admits that he did attend a press conference and a youth awards ceremony within days of receiving a positive COVID test. The initial appeal Court granted him the right to stay in Australia so that he could possibly become the winningest grand slam tennis guy of all time but, as of right now, the government has once again cancelled his visa, and it is up to him to try another appeal.

So, the reporters are having a heyday. So many opinions. But, all viewpoints combined, the divisions of society are glaring, not just about tennis, but like a mirror for all the divisions we are seeing in the world in 2021/2022 as a result of the COVID pandemic. To cut back your time reading all those tennis articles, here is an overview:

First up, there is the ‘elite athletes deserve exemptions' view. Keith Rathbone in The Conversation ( article ‘Vaccinated or not, Novak Djokovic should be able to play’, points out that although the decision to let him play would be against the country’s policies, “the government already makes exceptions for elite athletes in many ways”, as do many countries for elite athletes. He noted that even the IOC (International Olympic Committee) was discussing with the Chinese government to allow travel for unvaccinated athletes, with a quarantine period. He further notes that extensive work has been done by sporting organizations to host events safely. Further, he pointed out that other professionals such as politicians, actors, and business executives have enjoyed different restrictions than “ordinary Australians”. He identified that elite sporting competitions contribute huge financial incomes for local and national bodies.

Next, there is the 'it's all for political gain' viewpoint. Shaimaa Khalil of BBC News in an article entitled ‘Novak Djokovic: The politics behind Australia’s decision’, is of the view that the decision to let him play or not is largely political: “The decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa – after court previously ruled in his favour – is largely about saving face with Australian voters in an election year.” She opines that the federal government is making a point that “no one is above the rules. Not even the world’s number one.” All with the hope of saving votes.

Then, there is the ‘special treatment for males' division. Samarveer Singh in an article in Essentially Sports entitled ‘Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams Would Like a Word” points out that Naomi Osaka was criticized for missing press conferences or tournaments due to mental health issues, and Serena Williams was sanctioned for wearing a “cat suit” on the tennis court. So, if Novak Djokovic is granted permission to play without a vaccination (which would seem to be quite a larger issue than a cat suit), there might be some double standard at play.

Finally, there is simply 'the rules are the rules' opinion. Eugene Robinson in a Washington Post article ‘Opinion: Australia should send Novak Djokovic home’ is of the view that Novak Djokovic is “flouting” Australia’s vaccination rules and that this has nothing to do with “freedom” but all to do with Novak Djovokic’s own “persecution complex”. He notes that although the vaccination exemption might be “technically correct”, it is “morally wrong”. He points out that the majority of top-level tennis players are vaccinated (I read somewhere 97% of the top 100), and that “more than 90 percent of Australian adults have had at least two vaccine shots . . . “ Tennis player Stefanos Tsitsipas states that Novak Djokovic is “playing by his own rules . . . it makes the majority look like they are all fools”.

I can look at each one of these viewpoints and see similarities between the current tennis feud and the divisions brought about by all the issues surrounding COVID. For instance, arguably, the well-off in society (with money and the freedom to ‘do things’) did not fare as poorly as the ‘have nots’, governments will definitely be affected in the voting booths by their handling of the pandemic (positive or negative), females did experience more adverse effects in areas such as employment, childcare, and homeschooling, and there has been widespread disagreement about ‘just doing the right thing.’

So many viewpoints. So many sides. Thanks to the tennis world for holding it up before our eyes. As tennis player Andy Murray states (the ‘Not great for tennis: Andy Murray on the Novak Djokovic visa farrago’), “It’s unfortunate that it’s ended up in this sort of situation . . . just want to get it resolved. I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case. It just seems like it’s dragged on for quite a long time now . . . .”

Just like COVID and the societal divisions. I hear you, Andy Murray.


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