January 6, 2022

Novak Djokovic is Wrong, but that doesn’t make the Australian Government Right.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.

Novak Djokovic is no stranger to controversies, but ending up in an Australian government detention center takes things to the next level.

He thought that he was good to go. Earlier this week, he posted on his Instagram that he was on his way to Australia. Djokovic claimed to have received a medical exemption to enter the country without being vaccinated.

The internet almost exploded. Especially folks in Australia who had to go through some of the longest and most-enforced lockdowns worldwide and were pretty upset about that decision.

And all of a sudden, everything changed.

Scott Morrison, who is the Prime Minister of Australia, let the world know that Djokovic’s visa had been cancelled. But Djokovic was already in Australia, or better said, at the airport.

Some folks might have accepted that their visa got rejected, but everyone who knows Djokovic expected this to escalate even further. His dad published a statement accusing the Australian government of holding his son as a hostage. The Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said, “I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately.”

What a shitsh*w.

And just to be clear, I think Djokovic should have just gotten his shots. But if he really didn’t want to do that, what made him think that he wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences of his decision?

Australia is known to have some of the strictest border policies in the world (even without COVID-19). Everyone who read any news within the last two years knows that even Australian citizens were affected by the nation’s rules on COVID-19.

But one of the world’s best tennis players thought that he was above the law—and now, he is paying the price for that.

So far, so good. He did something wrong, and he has to deal with the consequences—end of the story. But that’s not what I expect to happen.

Djokovic is known not the be the best friend of science. There are videos of him on social media where he explains how talking to water changes the molecules. He doesn’t believe in modern medicine and gets his advice from self-proclaimed shamans. He is a perfectionist when it comes to his diet, and I have to give him that he is probably one of the fittest athletes in the world.

Djokovic’s views on health and medicine align pretty much with the beliefs of my former friends from the yoga community. And that’s what really got me thinking last night.

When I started doing yoga, I also spent some time getting information on alternative medicine. When I started believing in some of these claims, I found out that there is a huge community of healers, shamans, and science-rejecting folks in Eastern Europe.

I might have to add that I am half-Bulgarian and, therefore, no stranger to the mindset of someone like Djokovic. My grandmother claimed to heal loved ones with herbs and other alternative healing methods. The conspiracy theory that AIDS actually doesn’t exist was something I almost started to believe as a teenager. Guess who started this conspiracy? The Soviets.

Dj0kovic is a national hero in Serbia, which explains why the President tries to turn this into a diplomatic affair. Serbia, just like many other Eastern European countries, has become a popular travel destination for anti-vaxxers because there is almost no limitation on daily life because of the virus. Rejecting vaccines has become an Eastern European thing by now.

We could ask Hungary why they allowed 50,000 people into the stadium during the Euro 2020 that took place as the Delta variant started to spread in Europe. We could ask why Croatia allowed tourists to enter the country while the rest of Europe was in lockdown. We could ask my fellow Bulgarian friends why the country set a record for the lowest vaccination rate in the European Union.

Djokovic’s controversial takes on health don’t come out of the blue. It’s a mix of alternative medicine and Eastern European conspiracy theories.

And there is another problem most of us don’t like to talk about. It’s something that has been bothering me since this pandemic started.

I let go of many friends who continued to slide into the rabbit hole of QAnon and other conspiracy theories. Most of these folks reject vaccines. And almost all of them use athletes like Djokovic to back up their claims on health. Djokovic somehow became the Joe Rogan of tennis.

Even though I heavily disagree with my former friends and Djokovic on most of their claims, I have to give them that this weirdness seems to work for them.

When I was travelling, I met many lovely folks who wanted to escape modern society. Most of them are vegan, reject modern medicine, and live a pretty healthy life. Only their political views and indifference toward the problems of this planet somehow bothered me for years.

But I was told (more than once) that I had to let go of my political views and unlearn everything in order to be happy. I did that for a few years, and guess what, I was much happier than I am right now. Only that there was one huge problem caused by my new approach to life.

It turned me into a self-absorbed, ignorant hedonist. I didn’t care about politics and enjoyed conversations on water molecules, manifesting, and spirituality within my community of ex-pats. I started to believe that my new friends were right in telling me to stay away from politics and feel the good vibes instead.

But then COVID-19 hit us. Things changed. I had to question my newfound belief systems.

At the same time, my friends started questioning the existence of the virus. One of them claimed to heal COVID-19 with plant medicine. And it didn’t take long until most of my yogi friends were completely aligned with the narrative of Donald Trump and his administration.

It was like a nightmare that hasn’t ended up to this day.

And now, Djokovic. The hero of all anti-vaxxers. The man who is willing to cause a diplomatic uproar because of his choices. And not to forget, the man who probably saw all of this coming when he entered the plane to Australia.

“Before I am athlete, I am an Orthodox Christian” is a quote that is attributed to Djokovic. Do you think it is a coincidence that he provoked this situation on January 6th, which is the main Christmas holiday for Orthodox Christians?

Djokovic wants the attention, he wants to be seen as a victim of health policies he doesn’t agree with, and he knows how to play the media.

Again, I think he should have gotten his shots, but why did Australian officials run into this trap? Morrison is right to say that rules also apply to famous athletes; I am with him on that. But it wasn’t a smart move not to stop Djokovic from boarding the plane to Australia.

Actually, I feel that Djokovic should have been allowed to participate in the Australian Open 2022.

Why? Because banning him from participating only shows the double standards when it comes to sports events. Last year, I had to watch thousands of fans travel through Europe because of the Euro 2020. The NBA, NFL, NHL, and other sports leagues made their return, and some of them even allowed big audiences.

And then Australia, the country with the strictest lockdown policies, decides to host the Australian Open 2022. Really?

In my opinion, there are two options: cancel the tournament or accept that athletes get privileges. If you want to watch sports during lockdown you have to accept that athletes make their own decisions (even if they are wrong).

Further than that, this drama around Djokovic’s visa status doesn’t help anyone.

Those who love Djokovic and his weird views on the world won’t change their mind. But giving Djokovic and Serbian politicians the stage to turn this into an international affair is just a stupid move of the Australian government.

I agree with the statement that Djokovic is responsible for his current situation, but it just doesn’t look good to put him into a detention center.

Because that’s the one reason why I will never ever travel to Australia. The reason why I get goosebumps when Australian officials celebrate their border policies. Do yourself a favor and look up how they treat refugees in Australia. Here is a link to Amnesty International’s take on these policies.

Again, Djokovic should have gotten his shots. But the Australian government could have easily avoided this situation by canceling the Australian Open and handling their current Omicron outbreak instead of hosting one of the biggest sports events of the year.

Instead, they gave Djokovic an opportunity to start a worldwide discussion between COVID-deniers and reasonable people. But as much as I support vaccines and care about public health, I am aware that some folks will take sides with Djokovic.

I am not one of them, but I don’t feel that the Australian government helped worldwide efforts to get people vaccinated by creating images of a healthy athlete who recovered from COVID-19 in a detention center.

If this ends up helping anti-vaxxers around the world to create another narrative that points out the imperfections of our governments dealing with a pandemic, I will blame both Djokovic and the Australian government.

Just because the virus is real and the fact that vaccinations are safe doesn’t automatically mean that everyone will accept that. It is our biggest challenge to reintegrate those who don’t believe in science into society.

Of course, I am upset with Djokovic using his popularity to actively work against that—but we also shouldn’t make it that easy to create narratives that might help conspiracy theorists around the world to poison our public opinion.

There is no doubt that Djokovic messed up, and Australia did the right thing. I don’t question that at all.

I just feel that Australia didn’t help anyone with this back-and-forth. Prime Minister Morrison could have used his precious time to come up with a better strategy on COVID-19 or migration policies, but instead, he kicked off his election campaign by talking about tough border policies.

There is no reason to give a medical exemption to a perfectly healthy athlete, but there is also no reason to use COVID-19 as a talking point to celebrate the most questionable migration policies of any so-called Western democracy.

Don’t get me wrong. This is all Djokovic’s fault. He is not a victim in this.

But if I was Australian, I would be pretty upset about my government getting played by an eccentric athlete instead of taking action that is actually of benefit.

Why didn’t you cancel the Australian Open 2022, Mr. Morrison? I know that I won’t be watching this year.

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