Power games divide opinion

Are unvaccinated sporting stars not playing fair?

The sporting greats are obsessed with stamping their name indelibly into the record books, with theirs at the very top as the greatest. Novak Djokovic is a tennis great, as is Rafael Nadal, as is Roger Federer.

Before the recent Australian Open all three had claimed an incredible twenty Grand Slam titles and all three wanted to edge ahead by making it to 21. Time is running short, they’re getting older, brilliant young newcomers are arriving on the scene.

Federer is out with a long-term injury; Nadal is playing well but recovering from injury, so with the Aussie event on the horizon, Djokovic glimpsed a golden opportunity. The hard courts at Melbourne Park are his favourite surface where he has claimed the title on nine previous occasions. But there was a problem – Australia’s strict Covid-19 regulations.

Although he has not spoken publicly about it, Djokovic is against vaccination. Australian officials had ruled that only double vaccinated players could take part in the opening Grand Slam of the year, but then some officials accepted what turned out to be insufficient grounds for the medical exemption Djokovic was initially granted.

On arrival in Australia his entrance visa was revoked and from there on the situation descended into virtual farce. Over the following twelve days the saga dominated television news bulletins and made worldwide front-page headlines rather than back page sport news.

Neither Djokovic nor the various Australian authorities emerged with much credit from the unedifying affair, which concluded with the world number one being deported the day before the event began with the possibility of a further three-year ban from Australia. 

Cancelling Djokovic’s visa, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke argued that his presence risked fanning anti-vaccine sentiment, a view seemingly shared by the three judges who rejected his appeal on “health and good order” grounds. And then to compound Djokovic’s misery, Nadal subsequently made it to 21 Slam victories by defeating Daniil Medvedev in an epic, five-set final.

And as a last stinging blow, Djokovic now faces the prospect of not playing in the next Grand Slam event as the French government has announced that the new vaccination pass will be mandatory for international athletes.

Djokovic is not alone amongst unvaccinated top sport stars, meaning numerous sports are consequently affected. Top-flight football in the UK has been suffering a particular Covid crisis, with many matches postponed due to players testing positive for the virus.

Presumably some of these players are unvaccinated, so as rearranged fixtures pile-up, should football’s governing bodies now insist that players get the jab? And should other sports do the same? On one hand this will no doubt increase the already significant level of protest amongst the anti-vaccination lobby, on the other, clubs and fans want matches played with the top stars playing.

It’s a tough call either way, and if it comes down on the side on compulsory vaccination, who will be brave enough to tell those sporting megastars they no longer have a vaccination choice? 

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