Comment – Why has Novak Djokovic turned his vaccine status into a soap opera?

Novak Djokovic

It looks like this was a debate that didn’t need to happen.

As confirmation that Novak Djokovic was entered for the ATP Cup and then the Australian Open next month, the tiresome narrative over whether he has taken a Covid-19 vaccine appeared to be answered.

The world No 1 will not be allowed into Australia to compete unless he has received the vaccine, and yet for the past few months the perception in tennis and to those outside of the sport was that the Serbian was against taking the vaccine and may be prepared to miss the first Grand Slam of the year to confirm as much.

His father Srdjan suggested in November that his son would not play in Australia after the vaccine mandate was confirmed.

“As far as vaccines are concerned, it is the personal right of each of us whether we will be vaccinated or not,” he was reported to have said. “No one has the right to enter into our intimacy. I wouldn’t do that. And he’s my son, so you decide for yourself.”

Those comments appeared to back up the suspicion that Djokovic would not be forced into taking the vaccine and when asked about the issue after Serbia’s exit at the Davis Cup last week, he spurned the latest of numerous chances to end this debate once and for all.

“The freedom of choice is essential for everyone, whether it’s me or somebody else,” Djokovic said.

“Doesn’t really matter whether it’s vaccination or anything else in life. You should have the freedom to choose, to decide what you want to do. In this particular case, what you want to put in your body.

“I understand you want answers on where and how I am going to start the new season, but we’ll see what the future holds,” said Djokovic, a record nine-time champion in Melbourne.

“I can’t give you a date, but obviously the Australian Open is coming soon, so you will know very soon.”

So many Djokovic press conferences have featured questions about vaccines and yet his presence in Australia would suggest that stance was not as strong as many had suggested.

With that in mind, we have to ask why the defending Australian Open champion has allowed this story to become a stick for those keen to criticise vaccine sceptics to beat him with?

Djokovic was in danger of becoming a poster boy for anti-vaxxers and yet if he has taken the jab, he could have ended this discussion a long time ago.

He will need to have two vaccine doses to be allowed to travel to Australia and that suggests he will have taken his first one in December, meaning his refusal to end the debate at recent press events is a little confusing.

Influential icons like Djokovic can sway many who are uncertain about major issues of the day, so it would be a powerful statement if a figure who was previously viewed as a vaccine sceptic confirms he has taken it.

Yet while Djokovic appears to be planning to head to Australia, confirmation from the man himself over his vaccine status has yet to arrive.

The sooner he ends this bizarre soap opera, the better it will be for all of us and then we can then look forward to what should be a classic Australian Open next month.