It would be nice to think that today is the day Novak Djokovic headlines end. But the ATP tour is a calendar year packed with tournaments around the globe, and it won’t be long until the men’s world No. 1 is faced with another vaccine mandate.
What exactly is in store for the most infamous unvaccinated sportsperson on the planet? And will the prospect of a year of missed opportunities be enough to convince him to give in and get the jab?
A grim grand slam calendar
The latest rambling statement from Djokovic’s outspoken father ended with a promise to “see you in Paris”. Indeed, French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu confirmed Djokovic would be able to compete at the French Open unvaccinated in May, but “would not follow the same organisational arrangements as those who are vaccinated”.
But there are months till Roland-Garros, and depending on the French response to what has transpired in Australia, this stance could change. The French love rules after all, and they’re not planning to make life easy for anti-vaxxers, with French President Emmanuel Macron vowing to “piss off” the unvaccinated.
There’s already extensive testing requirements and a week’s mandatory quarantine for unvaccinated travellers — and that’s aside from the potentially severely limiting “organisational arrangements” awaiting Djokovic and other unvaccinated players in the tournament’s “health bubble”.
Complying with these requirements comes with further complications given the demanding tour schedule. A masters level tournament (the second most important after grand slams) in Rome finishes one week before the start of the French Open, a week Djokovic would spend in quarantine if he could even make it to France on time.
As of yet, there is no news from Wimbledon about any kind of tournament vaccine mandate, but UK travel requirements for the unvaccinated demands a negative test pre-travel and 10 days quarantine on arrival with further tests. The tour turnaround is quick here too, with only three weeks between the French Open and Wimbledon, and a number of significant tournaments in that time.
Djokovic would face a huge uphill battle to compete in the US Open. Travellers to the United States must be fully vaccinated. To gain an exemption, Djokovic would again have to attempt to document a medical contraindication (it’s uncertain if catching COVID would suffice). Otherwise, he’ll be looking for an emergency exemption or to have his entry deemed in the national interest by the secretary of state, transportation or homeland security. This prospect seems tenuous at best. Even if he’s successful, a week of quarantine would still be on the cards, again affecting his preparation and ability to compete in lead-up tournaments.
Where does this leave him?
Djokovic’s prospects of playing in the remaining grand slams are bleak, but even then it’s impossible to say how far his determination not to be vaccinated extends. He was willing to contract COVID, interact with journalists while infected, publicly announce he had been exempted from vaccination before arriving in Australia only to have his visa cancelled twice and be detained. All of this was preferable to taking the vaccine.
His arrival in Australia on tenuous grounds and his legal fight in our courts suggests that he is willing to try everything to have his cake and eat it too.
This piece was originally published by Crikey.