Novak Djokovic and other well-known vaccine skeptics are becoming increasingly despised. The unorthodox scientific and health ideas of Novak Djokovic, when they were held in a less perilous period, were perceived as the unusual features of a hyperactive seeker with firmly held opinions about everything from sports to spirituality, according to a more forgiving society.
On many occasions during important tournaments, he has sat inside a pressurized, egg-shaped pod, believing that doing so would enhance circulation, increase red-blood cell production, and cleanse his muscles of lactic acid. He agreed with the notion that prayer and faith might be used to cleanse contaminated water. For Djokovic and other high-profile players who took unconventional methods to health, they were a source of amusement for a public that, for better or worse, has long seen them as role models in their respective sports. These eccentricities are as innocuous as a dish of quarterback Tom Brady’s avocado ice cream on a hot summer day.
That is no longer the case.
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic will spend the weekend in a hotel room in Melbourne, Australia, while he awaits the outcome of a legal appeal and an expected hearing on Monday. Djokovic was denied entry to the country following a public and political uproar over a medical exemption he received to compete in the Australian Open without being vaccinated. Djokovic is an outspoken skeptic of vaccines. On Wednesday, the Australian Border Force rejected the documents he had submitted to support his exemption.
The fierce struggle over what was meant to be his quest for a record 10th Australian Open men’s singles title has shown a new dynamic for players like Novak Djokovic, who is now the world’s most valuable player. As a result of the recent spike in coronavirus cases and the ongoing battle to bring the pandemic to a close, public perceptions of athletes have shifted. Athletes who were once regarded favourably as iconoclasts are now encountering pushback when they insist on playing by a different set of rules than everyone else.
According to Michael Lynch, a former head of sports marketing for Visa and a longstanding adviser to the sports business, “the general public continues to respond favourably when an athlete speaks out on matters that make a difference in society and make people’s lives better.” Those who advocate for positions that put people’s lives in danger will, nevertheless, experience a strong negative reaction, says the author.
Sports success has provided Djokovic and other top athletes who are opposed to coronavirus vaccines, such as N.F.L. quarterback Aaron Rodgers and star basketball player Kyrie Irving, with platforms from which to promote causes they believe in and to collect millions of dollars in product endorsement fees. However, in recent months, their high-profile positions have become a liability, as their actions and viewpoints have aided in the spread of false information and placed the public’s safety at danger.
The stakes are quite high for sports companies and leagues. Over the course of more than a decade, access to social media has enabled athletes to be more vocal and influential than they have ever been before. Because they did not say anything rude or provocative, they were able to garner free, primarily favorable press for their respective sports, charitable organizations, and personal brands.
The vaccine debate has altered the dynamics of sports, which were welcomed back in 2020 provided they demonstrated safe conduct, such as wearing masks when playing in front of small crowds or no one at all, and engaging in frequent testing. The anti-vaccine conduct and outspokenness of Djokovic, Rodgers, Irving, and others has threatened that good will, and organizations are now tightening their policies in order to play defense against the situation.
It was announced on Thursday by the National Collegiate Athletic Association that it would not consider athletes or coaches to be “completely vaccinated” unless they had also had a booster injection.
The Novak Djokovic Controversy at the Australian Open
Despite the fact that the advice is not obligatory on schools and conferences, it has considerable impact, particularly in light of the upcoming N.C.A.A.-run Division I basketball playoffs, which will begin in March.
According to Patrick McEnroe, a former professional tennis player and current ESPN analyst, “you are free to have your own opinions, but when those beliefs start to have an affect on other people, that is when things start to become a bit dicey.”
This dynamic came to a head in Australia on Wednesday, when Djokovic was stopped by federal border officials at Melbourne International Airport.
A medical exemption from receiving the flu vaccine for an undisclosed reason has been granted to Djokovic, a Serbian who has won 20 Grand Slam singles titles in his career. Djokovic had flown to Australia to defend his title in the Australian Open following the announcement that he had been granted a medical exemption from receiving the vaccine. It was decided to grant the exemption by two committees of medical specialists working on behalf of the company that organises the event and the government of Victoria, which includes the city of Melbourne, where the tournament would be held. However, when Djokovic was on his way to Australia from Dubai, the general public and some politicians began to express their displeasure with what they perceived to be unjustifiable preferential treatment shown to Djokovic, the world’s top-ranked men’s tennis player.
In Australia, around 80% of the population has gotten at least one dose of a vaccine. Australians have been subjected to some of the most draconian restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus, including lockdowns that lasted hundreds of days and strict restrictions on movement to and from the country. With about 30,000 new cases reported every day in Australia, the public was no longer ready to accept an ardent vaccine opponent being given what appeared to be an improbable special exemption from vaccination requirements.
As a result of Djokovic’s attempts to enter Australia, border officers, with the assistance of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other key federal officials, denied him entry on the grounds that his medical exemption was invalid.
“Djokovic was caught up in a political power play between various government agencies,” said Michael Payne, a former chief marketing officer for the International Olympic Committee. “He got caught up in a political power play between different government departments,” he said.
Although this is true, Djokovic could have avoided his problems by simply getting vaccinated, as hundreds and millions of individuals have done over the last year, either because they chose to follow public health recommendations or because their employers or governments forced it.
Same goes for Irving, the Nets guard who has persistently refused to be vaccinated since he joined the team in 2011. Irving’s rejection has resulted in his being disqualified to play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, since the city of New York requires those who work indoors to be immunised against influenza.
For the first two months of the season, the Nets did not include him on their active roster. Then, as the team’s defeats increased, they made the decision to basically turn him into a part-time employee who will only be allowed to play in venues in places where it is not prohibited for unvaccinated people to work inside.
His performance against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night, in his first game of the season, will serve as a symbol of everything the National Basketball Association has attempted to avoid during the pandemic: being perceived as a possible menace to the general public. And the public’s patience with anyone who may be interfering with attempts to put a stop to the pandemic is running out.
Meanwhile, Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers are one win away from clinching the No. 1 seed in the National Football Conference for the playoffs, which begin next week. Rodgers is a folk hero in the Midwest and has led the team to three straight victories. Rodgers was widely condemned and ridiculed in November after testing positive for the coronavirus after months of making false assertions about whether or not he had been vaccinated against the disease. He also broke N.F.L. guidelines for unvaccinated players, including failing to wear a mask when conversing with press. He was also suspended for one game. He missed one game as he was recuperating from his sickness and isolated himself. The Packers were fined $300,000 by the National Football League for supporting his actions.
For Rodgers, refusing the vaccine was a result of reading hundreds of pages of research and receiving therapies to prevent infection, many of which have been disproved or have not been shown beneficial by science, including a veterinary antibiotic, as justification. As a result of his treatment, he rapidly became the target of public derision, which he attributed to cancel culture.
There are some people that support the star vaccination resisters. Serbian President Aleksandar Vui and his family held rallies in Belgrade on Thursday, where Srdjan Djokovic accused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of holding his son “captive” for his political beliefs and trampling on the rights of the entire country, where Djokovic is considered a national treasure.
A statement from Djokovic, according to him, was also read out loud: “God watches everything. Morality and ethics, as the highest principles, are the brightest lights on the path to spiritual ascent. “My grace is spiritual, whereas theirs is tangible affluence,” says the author.
Rafael Nadal, Djokovic’s main adversary, who is now in Australia ahead of the Australian Open, had a less-than-sympathetic view on the situation on Thursday afternoon.
The tennis player, who has long backed vaccination efforts, expressed pity for him, saying, “In some ways I feel sad for him.” “At the same time, he has been aware of the conditions for several months and is free to make his own decision.”