Tennis star Novak Djokovic faces deportation once again as the Australian government announces it is revoking his visa for a second time, three days before the Australian Open is set to begin.
Whatever your view it’s unlikely you’ll dispute Sir Andy Murray’s assessment who, to paraphrase, described the Novak Djokovic saga as not a “good look” for tennis.
It’s clear Murray was deliberately understating things, but it’s also not been a good look for the Australian government, because despite his ability to polarise there can be no question that Djokovic’s case and by extension the world number one himself has been handled very, very poorly by the authorities.
Of course, there’s been a much bigger picture at play here - Tennis Australia desperately needs all its stars turning out; in a Covid-ravaged sporting calendar the Big Names help sell tickets and go some way to filling the organiser’s bank balance.
Conversely, the government has an election looming and Djokovic’s presence in Melbourne, as a committed anti-vaxxer, is controversial to say the least.
Australians have had to suffer some of the toughest Covid restrictions anywhere, so unvaccinated Djokovic waltzing in for a tennis tournament has gone down about as well as Number 10’s rule-busting garden parties during lockdown in the UK. Worse, even.
It’s taken the best part of a week but now we know Djokovic’s visa application was filled out wrongly (deliberately or inadvertently?) suggesting he didn’t travel in the 14 days before arriving in Australia when in fact he did. And he has also admitted to breaking isolation requirements to fulfil a newspaper photo-shoot. It’s quite the charge sheet.
Djokovic’s case has inevitably prompted organisers of other tennis Grand Slams to consider their own Covid protocols. Both the French Open and Wimbledon Championships admit it is too early for them to make hard and fast rules, but obviously they intend to comply with whatever their country’s health advice is at the time.
After the debacle in Australia, you’d like to think at the very least there will be absolute clarity about any entry requirements.
The past shambolic week has also reminded us that, like it or not, sport plays a significant role in general Covid policy - especially given the profile and the influence of its best-known athletes.
Djokovic is not helpful to government campaigns to get people jabbed. Ninety-six of the top 100 women’s players are now fully vaccinated and only three of the men’s top hundred, which includes Djokovic, have not had a vaccination.
But of course, Djokovic is the biggest name, and his views reach the widest audience; especially and crucially among the younger generation.
We’ve witnessed a similar reluctance in the UK among professional footballers whose collective vaccination rates fall well below the national average.
That’s down to a combination of reasons from fears about the impact on athletic performance, to religion and even the conspiracy theories they find online. But like Djokovic they are influencers with huge followings among the younger generations.