Novak Djokovic won nine of the last fourteen Australian Opens 2008–21. In that time Federer won thrice and Nadal and Wawrinka once each. So no, courageous and exhilarating as Nadal’s 2022 win was, it does not make him the GOAT. The foul that felled Djokovic from behind, by a government desperate to reverse polls before elections due by May, was unprincipled, anti-scientific and a populist sop to the mob. It was also self-defeating. A major cause of Scott Morrison’s fatal slide in the polls is the hardening belief that he is a bully who lies and then lies again about his original lie when found out. Because he stands for nothing he falls for everything. On core conservative principles, he’s all hat and no cattle who ran away from the fight with state premiers as they systematically fractured the federation. His backflip on WA’s border closures confirms that when he comes to a fork in the road, Morrison heads left. ‘Rules are rules’ is hypocritical demagoguery. You cannot have a rules-based legal order in a system that empowers a minister to do an end run around an inconvenient court decision. Lauding Peter Dutton’s immediate smackdown of Tennis Australia’s ban on T-shirts asking ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’, Janet Albrechtsen wrote his quick response ‘suggests he skipped the Morrison government’s internal training session about checking polls before speaking’. Touché.
Alex Hawke is a virtual nonentity given five minutes of fame on the world stage over the saga; Djokovic’s fame as one of the greatest tennis players of all time will endure as long as the game is played. Polls indicate about three-quarters public support for his banishment. The adage, be careful what you wish for, has rarely been so apt. Djokovic will get over his disappointment, Nadal will never completely escape doubts over the title and the world will move on. But the consequences of governmental ideological despotism, embrace of cancel culture for thought crimes and the resulting dramatic expansion of state power will be felt for decades. On this logic, countries would be justified in banning high-profile individuals – Margaret Court, Israel Folau, anyone opposed to trans assaults on women’s sports – because of their controversial views, including in the past, that’s out of line with current law or morals of the noisy minority. The same attitude is shown by Jacinda Ardern’s insistence on a single source of truth or Justin Trudeau’s attack on the anti-mandate truckers’ convoy for holding ‘unacceptable views’. That’s no way to run a free society.
There were two separate court cases. The first addressed substantive issues of law and facts and Djokovic won comprehensively. The government let that decision stand. In fact, in the second case Hawke explicitly conceded the core point that Djokovic did not pose increased risk to others. He was banished for his freedom of choice over injecting a foreign substance into his own body. I must get vaccinated to protect you because your two, three and even four vaccines don’t protect you? Right, got it. And Djokovic must be kept out of Australia so his mere presence doesn’t remind everyone that without vaccines, he has survived two bouts of Covid with no visible damage to his fitness and health.
UK data show that unvaccinated over-seventies are five and eight times more likely to be hospitalised and die with Covid. This makes vaccination the rational and sensible choice for my own protection. Data also show little difference in transmissibility of the virus by both vaccinated and unvaccinated. In addition, a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows the risk of myocarditis is 11 times more following a second Pfizer dose than normal for 30–39-year-old men (and 133 times higher for the 12–15-year-olds!), albeit milder than virus-related myocarditis. If you do not have the virus, you cannot spread it. On 19 January a CDC analysis of data from California and New York showed that having recovered from a second infection in December, Djokovic would have posed between 3-5 times lower risk to others than vaccinated players with no prior infection. Hospital rates showed a similar pattern. At 34 and in peak physical condition because he is a fitness obsessive, the rational conclusion for Djokovic is to do without the jab for reasons of personal protection, without any accompanying risk of additional harm to others.
In the Covid-19 vaccine surveillance report from the UK Health Security Agency published on 3 February, covering the four-week period 3–30 January, three sets of statistics stood out. First, the unvaccinated accounted for under 30 and 19 per cent of Covid hospitalisations and deaths within 28 and 60 days of a positive test, respectively. Against this, the countervailing harsh reality is that per capita, for people over 18, the unvaccinated are hospitalised three-five times more and their mortality rates are between four to eight times higher than the triple-jabbed. Third and paradoxically, however, the infection rate among the triple-jabbed was higher than among the unvaccinated for every age group above 18 and double for 30–79-year-olds. In the past week two senior triple-jabbed UK Cabinet ministers tested positive for Covid. These trends have been documented for many months and complaints about the unadjusted infection rates being seriously misleading ring hollow. Real-world data fatally undermine the case for vaccine passports.
Rather than risk a second judicial defeat that would blow apart the official narrative on vaccinations, therefore, in the second case the government argument was that the minister had lawful authority to exercise very wide discretion in the public interest. He had done so because of views Djokovic had expressed two years earlier, before vaccines became available, views that were nuanced and explicitly not of a proselytising nature, as a result of which just his presence in Australia would be a symbol of the anti-vaccination cause and thus undermine the government campaign of universal vaccination. Remember that choosing to forego vaccination is not illegal. Just because Djokovic has taken great care to be the fittest and healthiest male on Earth doesn’t give him the right to think he’s more qualified than Morrison and Hawke to know what’s best for his health. How dare he?
The issue at stake had zilch to do with tennis and everything to do with placing the executive branch of government above the law and beyond the courts. The precedent that has now been judicially sanctified for the suppression of free speech and denial of individual autonomy for one’s own health should sound loud alarm bells to anyone who values liberty and freedom. Djokovic’s expulsion was against evidence-based science, a denial of bodily integrity, a violation of informed consent, an assault on liberty and free speech and an abuse of state power. Some victory for a conservative government.
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