Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open exemption is pathetic – and star will face huge backlash

Andy Murray practices ahead of Australian Open

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And so, after months of will-he-won’t-he speculation, the Australian Open vaccine power struggle was inevitably won by Novak Djokovic. Of course it was. In hindsight, we were foolish to even contemplate that any different outcome would be reached. 

After all, if there is one thing that this global pandemic has taught us it is the fact that the very rich and very powerful can effectively get away with whatever they want while it is the commoners who are left to pick up the pieces.

We have seen it time and time again over the past couple of years, be it in politics, business, or, as this example clearly demonstrates, in sport. 

One has to wonder what the residents of Melbourne, who have lived through some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in the world in recent times, will have thought upon reading a grinning Djokovic’s social media update on Tuesday morning to confirm his participation in this month’s tournament.

“Wishing you all health, love, and happiness,” he wrote on Instagram, seemingly oblivious to the irony of his words. “I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!”

This is an exemption permission, by the way, which was not given to Russian women’s player Natalia Vikhlyantseva, whose Sputnik V vaccine was not deemed sufficient by the authorities in Australia to enter the country.

But hey, she wouldn’t bring in the money and attention that Djokovic does, so never mind.

Quite what the rationale for Djokovic’s exemption is will most probably never be revealed, but given that Australian Open chief Craig Tiley bullishly claimed back in November that “everyone on site, the fans, all the staff, the players, will need to be vaccinated”, it seems a remarkable U-turn.

Or perhaps remarkable is the wrong word. Predictable may be more suitable.

But the show must go on, and Djokovic will now be the strong favourite to claim a tenth Australian Open of his remarkable career.

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Recently, however, the notoriously divisive Serb seemed to hint that he was more interested in winning the affections of the crowd than any further silverware.

After losing the US Open final to Daniil Medvedev last year, a visibly emotional Djokovic, who enjoyed the rare experience of being the favourite with the supporters, admitted: “The crowd made me (feel) very special. They pleasantly surprised me.

“I did not know, I did not expect anything, but the amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something that I’ll remember forever.

“The emotion, the energy was so strong. I mean, it’s as strong as winning 21 grand slams.”

That support will not be the case this time around, and Djokovic can expect a rough ride from those present in the Rod Laver arena, who will no doubt be left furious by the perceived injustice of his arrival in their country at a time when many of them are unable to travel. 

Will he care? Only he can truly answer that, but there is surely no doubt that any triumph in Melbourne would be overshadowed by the farcical circumstances of his participation.

In the meantime, as restrictions around the world tighten again and the Omricon variant spreads like wildfire, we are left safe in the knowledge once more that it really is one rule for them, and another for the rest. 

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