L’Affaire Novak

There are many workers who are willing to lose their jobs rather than give up their “freedom” by capitulating to vaccine mandates. And, while the Trump-heavy Supreme Court has rejected the Biden-instituted order that all large employers require their workers to be vaccinated or at least be subject to frequent testing, even this conservative court has upheld state ordered directives that all health care workers be vaccinated at the risk of being fired.

The argument that vaccine mandates impinge upon personal freedom has always been a specious one since it conveniently ignores the rights of the willingly vaccinated to be free from the threat of serious illness spread by the antis. And despite the fact that the vaccines have not been the be-all and end-all solution to the virus, they have overwhelmingly proven to be the best protection against serious illness, while the unvaccinated continue to represent the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths.

Of course in a rational universe we would not need mandates since almost everyone would follow the experts’ advice and get their shots. But in a world where common sense is in short supply, politics subsumes sanity. And “personal freedom” becomes a euphemism for selfishness. But most of the resisters are nameless and faceless. Then there is Novak Djokovic.

While the world confronts the pandemic record-breaking sweep of the omicron variant, the very real prospect of Russia invading Ukraine and the sudden surge of inflation, it seems that the biggest story of the week was Djokovic’s episodic battle with the government of Australia over his right to make tennis history by competing for his 10th Australian Open title and 21st overall Grand Slam championship, moving him past his long-time rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, on top of the list. With both Roger and Rafa clearly on the downside of their illustrious careers, Novak, at 34, should have the chance to add many more titles to his resume, cementing his case as the greatest player of all time, but it won’t happen in Melbourne in 2022 after a judicial panel made his deportation order over his non-vaccinated status final.

Djokovic has never enjoyed the adoration that many tennis fans have felt for Roger and Rafa, partially because of his brash personality, self-adulation and oddball views, including a penchant for junk science. But the question of the moment is whether he was treated unfairly by the government of Australia because of his reputation and, possibly, because he comes from a country that is not exactly a paradigm of democracy. Despite his support of many commendable humanitarian causes, he has a tendency to associate with Serbian extremists with decidedly nationalistic views.

Regardless of Australia’s true motive in deporting him, it clearly goes beyond his non-vaccination. While Novak did not help his cause by lying on his application and concealing a positive virus test while meeting with reporters and appearing maskless at a junior tennis event in December, there was clearly an anti-immigration undercurrent to the whole affair. Australia has taken one of the hardest lines in the world on illegal immigration, and Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison had much to gain politically over making Djokovic an example.

But the government clearly botched the whole affair by reversing rulings and housing Novak in a shabby hotel in which would-be immigrants have lingered in legal limbo for years. Certainly there was a better way to deal with the matter. And whether the ultimate decision was right or wrong, tennis fans will be deprived of the opportunity to have the best player on the planet at one of its premier events with a real chance to make history. But, as much as Djokovic may play the victim, while becoming a hero to the far right, he always had a simple and elegant solution: he could always get vaccinated, for God’s sake!

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