Should Novak Djokovic be vaccinated? Yes. Should he be banned? Absolutely not

It sounds so simple when you express it in those terms. Except Djokovic is a figure of sufficient complexity to bewilder even his own biographer. “I think he’s getting vaccinated,” predicted Daniel Muksch, after Nadal overtook him in Melbourne on the all-time list. That theory has been scotched by the world No 1’s remarks to the BBC, with Djokovic seemingly determined to uphold his principles even if it means losing his claims on sporting immortality.

You are quite entitled to believe that his absence at the French Open and Wimbledon would be no great loss, or that Nadal’s staggering win in Australia proves tennis can survive perfectly well without him. But it is worth considering exactly what this school of thought represents. It is tantamount to claiming that Djokovic should be stripped of his place in history purely because of his insistence on bodily autonomy.

This is a worrying equation to adopt. The case for Djokovic to be vaccinated is reasonable enough, in light of the harm that he is knowingly inflicting on his career and reputation. But the idea that his status in the game should be forever compromised by his scepticism towards vaccine mandates? That is not an implication with which anyone, irrespective of taste for Djokovic or his penchant for quackery, should feel comfortable.

Djokovic has failed to recognise that his actions have wider consequences

By Simon Briggs

Novak Djokovic’s position on vaccines is as unsurprising as it is eye-rollingly daft.

Here he is, claiming not to be an anti-vaxxer on the grounds that he has never pushed his opinion on others. And yet his interview with the BBC stood at the top of their news website on Tuesday morning, above the build-up to what some anxious observers are terming World War III.

In other words, Djokovic is denying the essential fact that his decisions have an impact on others, whether he likes it or not.

In his world, he is entitled to take control of his own body, without reference to the wider consequences. And yet, through the drama surrounding his ill-fated trip to Australia, he has become one of the highest-profile refuseniks in the world – probably THE highest-profile.

His unparalleled athleticism makes him the ultimate poster child for those who have imbibed conspiracy theories online. He comes across as a clean-running, friction-free biological machine – the key to his status as arguably the greatest male tennis player of all.

As a vaccine sceptic, Djokovic thus represents the human equivalent of the perfect storm, particularly for his many hero-worshippers in the Balkans. Put simply, his actions will make it harder to suppress the virus. So while he has the right to sidestep the vaccine, it is pure sophism to claim that this doesn’t make him an anti-vaxxer.

While the concept of athletes as “role models” has its problems – especially when used as a prurient excuse to trawl through a footballer’s bins – there is a certain responsibility that comes with the sort of fame and fortune that Djokovic has amassed.

Yes, he lives in an ivory tower – or rather several ivory towers, in Monaco, Marbella and Belgrade. But when he goes to a tournament, he will be mixing with other players, as well as fans, media, officials and so on.  

And here we return to the essential interconnectedness of things. Each person at that tournament is a little safer because of every dose of the vaccine shared by their peers. Why should they welcome someone who believes they know better, in defiance of all scientific proof.

To put it in more formal terms – and borrow a line written by the influential author Cary Doctorow – “Human beings have an undeniably entwined epidemiological destiny. There are few epidemiological choices that are purely personal – they redound to the people around you.”

We can only hope that the worst of the pandemic is passing, and that Djokovic’s stance will be less newsworthy by the time Wimbledon comes around. 

In the meantime, though, one finds oneself looking at the BBC’s interview and thinking, “Novak, it’s not just about you.”

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