Game, set and match on Australia’s Covid response

Flat White

Dom Penava

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Dom Penava

4 February 2023

5:00 AM

Twelve months ago, Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia for allegedly (and essentially, by way of description from the minister) harbouring anti-vax sentiment. Let that sink in – he didn’t commit a thought crime, which in itself is a ridiculous charge, he allegedly committed one. Maybe. Possibly. Potentially. That’s all it took to cancel his visa.

The decision to boot him from the country despite an earlier federal judge ruling he had done nothing wrong was just about the Liberal Party’s most desperate political ploy of the century – justified as a health measure to protect us from arguably the fittest athlete on the planet. Back then, Djokovic was public enemy Number One for daring to question the advice of our Covid experts. His name, an element of Slavic origin, was shamelessly mocked by the media – these are the same people who insist on stamping out racism or embracing diversity. Fast forward to 2023 and chants of Nole were heard ringing around the stadium in Melbourne over a swathe of adorning cameras. The Australian Open may be renamed after him if his winning streak continues.

That’s just about the most Australian message we could send to the world; another embarrassing reminder that most of our citizens have been conditioned away from individual thought. If the media tells us to abandon all reason and boo someone for their medical choices, we’ll do it. If they tell us to cheer for that same person so they can capture the perfect soundbite, we’ll do that too. In most places, culture is a product of longstanding traditions and public debate, where social perceptions only change over long stretches of time. Here, it’s whatever the daily headlines prescribe – anything our corporate moguls or State-sanctioned voices declare to be proper. One day, Novak is scorned as a selfish outcast, today he’s the public darling. It’s just science, apparently.

In truth, it is more like a subtle admission of how irrational Australia’s Covid response was. It’s hard to expect anything more from overpaid ministers who are strangers to honest work, but the general public should’ve known better than to rally by their senseless dictates. From detaining someone as a public health risk to proudly parading him in front of thousands of people, Australia may have slumped to the most embarrassing double fault in sporting history.

Despite winning 22 Grand Slams, nothing speaks more of Novak’s resilience than his decision to go along with the festivities after the tournament. He could have demanded an apology or spoken out against the harsh injustice of being used as a political scapegoat. He could have gloated about being fitter and faster than every other athlete who chose to get vaccinated. In the end, outrunning young players in their physical prime (while carrying an injury) was the perfect response. This man got more right in two weeks than our health ministers did over two years.

Australian institutions should take note and learn from this saga. We can pretend to have moved on, but this is the same country that created persona non grata of anyone who refused to follow senseless Covid mandates. We still live among the same people who shamelessly dobbed us in for visiting our dying relatives. It is the same business and media landscape that polarised us down medical lines and the same country that deported tennis players for daring to think for themselves. We are merely another pandemic away from doing all that again unless we learn to do better.

Upon his triumph at Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic collapsed into a flood of emotion that made soap operas seem mellow. His face fell deep into his towel as feint cries echoed from underneath. Known for his holistic approach to life and sport, it was his moment of pure self-reflection – an appreciation of everything he’s achieved, everyone he may have wronged, and everywhere he strives to improve.

Australia desperately needs its own face-in-towel moment to reflect. Let’s make it happen.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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