What the Djokovic saga reveals about Age of Covid


It is ironic that one of the richest and most recognizable sportsmen in the world, tennis champion Novak Djokovic, has become a symbol of the critical concerns about the global issues we face in the age of Covid. These include the more subordinate concerns about borders and sovereignty; the multiple levels of global, federal and provincial bureaucratic control; and the malleable nature of national and global public health policies rooted in what seems, at least to laymen, the politics of ever-elusive scientific evidence.

Djokovic is, of course, an unlikely leader of these causes and not what his father would have us imagine: a modern-day Spartacus leading a “slave” revolt against their oppressors and tyrants. As the details of Djokovic’s biography are dissected in the media, we know that one of the most gifted tennis players in the history of the game is a staunch Serbian nationalist and that his views on science, spirituality and vaccinations are unconventional, even downright shady. Djokovic’s curious, complex and colorful worldview may hurt many of his fans, but in his native Serbia and elsewhere, as recent events have witnessed, his popularity is unchallenged even though he has publicly expressed his skepticism. about vaccines.

While Australian commentators have been shocked by Djokovic’s views, we in India should certainly have a greater tolerance given our own eclectic sensibilities. More precisely, Djokovic’s “arrogant” attitude, his eccentricities and his beliefs are an unnecessary diversion from the fundamental concerns – to use Foucault’s now rather tired and cliché expression – about governmentality at the national and transnational levels.

The story does not end there. The Rydges on Swanston Street in Melbourne, reborn a few months ago as the Park Hotel, is an unlikely location for the Djokovic saga. Located on the edge of Melbourne’s thriving CBD (central business district) and the University of Melbourne’s rugged Parkville campus, you’d be inclined to turn your head away from this 1970s architectural abomination as you walk past Tram No. 16.

For the most part, we used it to accommodate college visitors who spent much of their time on campus rather than in the spooky hotel. During the pandemic, it was used as a quarantine facility and contributed almost on its own to Wave 2 in Melbourne. At first, the media reported that “inappropriate” contact in the hotel between a security guard and a traveler had caused the virus to spread to the western suburbs. A subsequent investigation ruled him out, but Rydges acquired the nickname as ‘the hotel of the epidemic’, until asylum seekers and stateless refugees were interned at his compound, including those waiting. their case has been tried for years.

For example, two of the refugees held in the hotel, from the persecuted Ahwazi Arab Iranian minority, arrived in Australia as children and are still awaiting rehabilitation. By demonstrating their natural inclination to be fair and egalitarian, and by keeping Djokovic at the Park Hotel, the authorities have unwittingly given the refugees more media attention than they have been able to get in years.

Borders have always been instruments of territorial sovereignty as well as a means of defining and excluding Others. In parts of Australian public opinion, border control has been seen as a way of preserving a way of life. During the years of the pandemic, this took on a bizarre dimension. During the first two years of the pandemic, it became nearly impossible for citizens and permanent residents to return to Australia, as the policy was designed to seal Australia in order to suppress the virus. However, even with the strictest quarantine policies in place, there were celebrities who managed to escape isolation at designated facilities and were seen reveling in mansions.

But today Australia is but a symbol of a global refugee crisis caused by multiple conflicts and international travel crises accentuated by visa, entry, testing and quarantine rules. to control Covid and therefore undermine the real promise of globalization and a less Westphalian world. Ironically, many refugees may have been left out, but the virus has engulfed much of the country.

The Djokovic saga also revealed, at the very least, how at least three authorities botched the deal: Tennis Australia, the Victorian government and the Canberra federal government, in a year when the federal government’s popularity will be tested in legislative elections.

Transcripts of interviews, presented in court, between border control officers and the athlete revealed a Kafkaesque bureaucracy unwilling to be reasonable or respond sensitively to reasonable requests. We are witnessing a seemingly transparent, straightforward, honest but somewhat confused Djokovic being faced with rules and questioned, almost to the point of harassment. As the federal judge pointed out: “The point that worries me a little is: what more could he have done? “

For most Melbourne residents, who have experienced the hardest and longest lockdown over the past two years, a visa for Djokovic is, however, an insult to months of lockdown. In the last two years, moreover, we have seen the full play of federal politics even though there have been regular meetings of the national cabinet (with the prime minister and prime ministers of the states as members). Within the broad framework of a national policy, each state has drawn up its own rules with sometimes bizarre consequences. Until a few weeks ago, it was easier to travel from New York to Perth than from Victoria to Western Australia.

Tragically, Djokovic’s story reveals how the science of the virus, scientific evidence, and the power of vaccinations have tested the patience of a global public generally willing to accept the verdict without skepticism. But the danger is that since the advent of Omicron, while standards for social distancing, close contact, RAT testing against PSR, and quarantine have been dropped – even though the virus has spread like a wildfire – politics can drive science and public policy being formulated.

This column first appeared in the print edition on January 12, 2022 under the title “A Letter from Melbourne”. The writer is Honorary Professor at the University of Melbourne and Professor at JNU. He is currently based in Melbourne


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