So I woke up this morning to the news that, after 11 days of legal conflict and confusing news reports, male tennis no. 1 Novak Djo­ko­vic has been deported. In my opinion, this whole issue has been a bit of a shit-show, and I feel like I still don’t fully understand quite how this has all gone down.

I will admit, like many Australians I was pissed off when Djo­ko­vic was gloating on social media about having been given a “medical exemption” from needing to be vaccinated before being allowed to come to Australia. It just seemed like yet another example of the rich and famous getting away with breaking rules that every normal person is required to follow – and considering the rules in this case are designed to keep us safer during a pandemic, a time when most of us have endured a lot of suffering for one reason or another, it was especially aggravating. So when news first broke that he’d been denied entry at the border and taken into immigration detention, my first instinct was a kind of gleeful, “Hahaha, suck it!” (I also enjoyed a meme Viv showed me, which was like, “Exclusive photo of the passport official who denied Djo­ko­vic entry”, with Roger Federer’s head photoshopped onto a passport official’s body.) But as time has gone on I’ve been able to reevaluate that immature first response.

The first thing to be said is that it seems like there’s been some serious miscommunication here. Like, the Federal Gov­ern­ment claims that they told Tennis Australia that no one associated with the Australian Open would be allowed to enter the country if not vaccinated. OK… so then why did Tennis Australia and the Victorian Gov­ern­ment even create this “independent medical body” to evaluate applications for medical exemptions? And what auth­o­ri­ty was this body ever supposed to have? The state government can’t issue visas… Was the idea that the Federal Gov­ern­ment had outsourced this bit of its pandemic response responsibility, too, or was the body only intended to evaluate exemptions from the Australian Open’s own vaccination rules? It seemed very strange.

And then the next thing is, well, if tennis players weren’t going to be allowed into the country if unvaccinated, then why even issue him the visa? I read that it’s possible his visa approval was automated, but doesn’t that imply that the government is not even asking about vaccination status on visa applications, a whole year after vaccines started becoming available? (Or are they saying Djo­ko­vic lied on his application, whether intentionally or not?)

The Federal Gov­ern­ment has been like, OK OK so we issued him a visa, but visas don’t guarantee you’ll be allowed into the country; the final decision still stands at the border, where we were firm that unvaccinated tennis players are not allowed in. But other tennis players, like Renata Voráčová(external link), were allowed in until the government decided to get all hardline against Djo­ko­vic, at which point they cancelled her visa and sent her back to Europe even though she’d already been playing in a lead-in tournament here in Melbourne. So it doesn’t seem like border officials knew about this apparent “no exemptions” policy until the Federal Gov­ern­ment suddenly realised it’d be politically advantageous to go after Djo­ko­vic.

I mean, I don’t follow tennis very closely, but I will admit that I don’t have the best impression of Djo­ko­vic. And yet it still seems hard to argue that the government has had some kind of fair, consistent and well-communicated position throughout. It seems very clear that they’re trying to distract from their shocking mismanagement of the Omicron wave, which has seen Covid tests become unavailable and supermarket shelves go empty from the sheer numbers of workers forced home sick or isolating, by looking “tough” against Djo­ko­vic.

That initial judge who found in Djo­ko­vic’s favour made a fair point I think when he said, what more was Djo­ko­vic supposed to do before he travelled here? He thought he had this exemption, he’d been approved for a visa… he thought he was good to go. It’s interesting too that in the second court case, the government changed its mind about why they were cancelling his visa; now it was because they were worried he’d be a lightning rod for anti-vax sentiment and foster civil resistance. Even though the judges found that time in favour of the government, they did stress they did so on the basis of whether it was legal for them to make that decision, not whether their reasoning behind the decision was actually right. Because it does seem pretty specious.

One thing that I have hoped would come out of Djo­ko­vic’s plight is that the conditions he was detained in at the Park Hotel are conditions that innocent asylum seekers have been enduring for years because the Federal Gov­ern­ment has this inhumane “sure the courts have forced us to recognise you’re a legitimate refugee, but the desperate measures you took to flee your homeland weren’t getting a legitimate passport and visa and flying here on a commercial flight, so we’re just gonna lock you up forever until some other country offers to take you in instead, but ummmm not New Zealand though, for reasons” policy. The asylum seekers are confined in hotel rooms where they can’t even open the windows, and it wasn’t even that long ago that it was shown they were being served maggot-infested food. When Djo­ko­vic’s mum complained publicly about the food her darling boy was being served, keep in mind that it might well have been that atrocious…

There do seem to have been some individuals who came to protest Djo­ko­vic’s imprisonment and had their minds blown by this horrible reality. But overall, I haven’t seen the extent of coverage of this issue as I had hoped.

As for Djo­ko­vic himself, honestly, I didn’t really want him bringing his unvaccinated self here to prance about in a tennis tournament, but I definitely think the honourable thing to do would have been to NOT GRANT HIM A VISA. Maybe even to work out a clear and universal policy for all prospective travellers to Australia as to “are medical exemptions from vaccination, for the purpose of travel authorisation, a thing that exists or not”. I mean, I still don’t even know the answer. I know the Federal Gov­ern­ment said no one affiliated with the Australian Open would get one but that very specificity implies that they are a thing that exists generally. In that case, could they maybe release a clear public statement explaining what kinds of people would genuinely qualify for one?

A lot of Serbians seem angry about it too, feeling like Australia has done their champion dirty, which I can kind of understand even if I think he could have avoided the entire problem by just getting vaccinated like some kind of sane rational person. Like I said, the honourable thing would’ve been to not grant him a visa, rather than trick him into flying here (or whatever they think they were doing) so they could make an example out of him. Serbians are totally right to call this out as being politically motivated, because it is.

The one good thing about him finally being deported is that maybe this whole spectacle can stop being the #1 news story every single night, and we can go back to more important stories like supermarket shelves being bare, the six-digits number of Australians being officially diagnosed with Covid every day (and how many more do we think have caught the virus, but not been tested?), the Federal Gov­ern­ment’s refusal to come up with any fair or workable plan to acquire and distribute RATs, its refusal to resuspend “mutual obligations” for unemployed people despite the obvious and pressing health risks at present, the aftermath of the volcanic eruption in Tonga, and more. It’s been a real bit of distraction theatre, and one I really hope we can move on from now.