Comment: Novak Djokovic embarked on a PR disaster in Australia – and it has backfired horribly

Novak Djokovic speaks during an interview

He either didn’t see it coming or doesn’t care who he upsets, but Novak Djokovic’s misguided path to the Australian Open has resulted in a PR catastrophe that has left a lasting scar on his legacy.

Djokovic’s hopes of defending his Australian Open title look over after being refused entry into the country after the Australian Border Force has confirmed Djokovic’s visa application has been cancelled and he will be deported.

The 34-year-old had travelled to Australia after announcing he had received a medical exemption from Covid-19 vaccination rules to compete in the tournament, but his hopes of skirting around the rules have been left in tatters.

After 18 months of evading the question over whether he would have a Covid-19 vaccine, Djokovic’s participation in the first Grand Slam event of 2022 has become the talking point in tennis for many a long month.

The suspicion that he had not been vaccinated ensured that any effort he made to find a route into Melbourne via a medical exception would spark a huge storm of protest from an Aussie population that has sacrificed so much of their freedom in a bid to fight the virus.

So as a smiling Djokovic confirmed on his social media platforms he had been granted a medical exemption to play in Australia, the immediate reaction was predictably hostile on social media platforms and on mainstream news channels across the country.

Yet confirmation that he had been held at the airport on Wednesday amid question marks over his visa application confirmed this ill-judged attempt to navigate the tight visa rules in place for visitors to Australia confirmed that the backlash against his appearance had already hit a roadblock.

Australian politicians are fully aware of the anger that has been stirred up by the Djokovic story, with the country’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the world number one, who has previously spoken out against vaccinations, would be on the “next plane home” if he could not provide “acceptable proof” that his exemption was legitimate.

The Serbian arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday evening local time, but faced trouble at the border, with Acting Sports Minister Jaala Pulford confirming that the state government was not supporting his visa application to compete in the Australian Open.

She tweeted: “The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia.

“We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.

“We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors.”

Prime Minister Morrison told a media conference on Wednesday: “We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that.

“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.”

When leading politicians get involved in a story of this nature, the sportsman caught up in the eye of the storm rarely comes out as a winner and that is likely to be Djokovic’s biggest issue if he is allowed to play in the Australian Open.

The Serbian confirmed how much the love of the tennis fans meant to him when he broke down in tears after receiving a huge ovation from the New York crowd when he lost against Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final last year.

Now he had to face up to the reality that his star status is not enough to avoid the reality that he needs to accept the rules every other player appearing at the Australian Open have accepted, even if some of them were reluctant to take a vaccine.

Reports in Australia suggest Djokovic used the loophole of a positive Covid case in the last six months as a reason for him not being vaccinated, but that argument may not be credible given the long-held perception that he was never intending to get vaccinated at any point during the pandemic.

With Australan Prime Minister Scotti Morrison applading the decision Twitter, it is hard to imagien Djokovic he will not be returning any time soon, with his future in the sport now surely in doubt after this shameful and embarassing episode.

Now Djokovic appreciates that he is not immume from the rules most of the world have decided to follow amid this pandemic.