Novak Djokovic, the world’s No 1 ranked tennis player, is no stranger to court victories but none has been as dramatic as his legal battle to win the right to contest the Australian Open this month. He was detained on arrival in Melbourne last week and told he would be deported, only for the decision to be overturned by a judge. The episode has cast an unflattering light on Australia’s Covid policy.
In a country that has imposed stricter rules on its population than almost any in the world, the initial decision to exempt Djokovic on medical grounds from the requirement to be vaccinated caused understandable consternation. Melbourne, the host city for the championships, has been locked down longer than any other, spending 267 days in various forms of quarantine until October. Victorians who have had to endure these privations were understandably angry that a tennis star might be treated leniently. However, Djokovic has been invited to play tennis on a temporary visa so the argument that the same rules should apply to him as to the resident population does not hold.
Moreover, the point of the lockdown measures was to eradicate Covid and this they have failed to do. Australia is removing controls as cases soar while European countries are locking down again because omicron is so infectious. Australians are entitled to wonder whether there is any coherence in this approach. Scott Morrison, Australia’s premier, previously said that unless Djokovic showed a good reason for not being vaccinated he should be removed. But since the virus has now taken hold, what would be the point other than to assuage the anger of Australians who must be wondering what the months of sacrifice were for?