Djokovic’s Strange Australian Odyssey | The New Yorker


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Novak Djokovic’s application for a COVID-vaccine exemption in order to play at the Australian Open was, from the start and in its essence, a cynic’s ploy. As recently as a month ago, he was uninfected with the coronavirus and unyielding in his conviction (as he still is) that he does not want a COVID vaccine to enter his body. Being healthy but unvaccinated, as he was until mid-December, meant he could not, without a lengthy quarantine, have entered Australia under its strict pandemic travel restrictions. That meant no tennis for him at an event he has dominated for years, which, in turn, could be understood to mean that his personal anti-vax convictions are so strong that he was willing to forgo what is arguably his best opportunity to win his twenty-first major—one more than anyone in the men’s game has ever won. It would be interesting to know what he was thinking at that point: what it felt like to be the greatest player of his era passing up the chance at an all-time record—the record in his sport—because he held a view, held it firmly. But then something fortuitous happened: he got COVID. Who in the world could be in a position where contracting the coronavirus would present an opportunity, a loophole?

Early last week, Djokovic indicated, with exclamation points and emojis, that he had been granted a vaccine exemption—this was confirmed shortly afterward by Tennis Australia, which runs the Australian Open—and would be headed to Melbourne after all. He didn’t say why, and he had a right to his medical privacy, of course, but people naturally speculated about why he was entitled to an exemption: a rare underlying malady, say, or an adverse reaction to an ingredient in the vaccine. If either of these had been the case, he would have been spared—along with Australia and everyone else—the sad debacle that began to unfold the minute he landed at Melbourne’s airport.

Djokovic, who is thirty-four, grew up in Serbia, where almost all children are routinely immunized. (The one exception are Roma children in impoverished Belgrade shantytowns.) More than eight million doses of the COVID vaccine have been administered in Serbia, and the government has provided cash incentives and vouchers to encourage the wary. Serbia, then, which Djokovic represents as a player, and where he spends much of his time when he is not on the tennis circuit, is a place whose health officials are eager to see their fellow-citizens immunized to protect themselves and those they live and work among. They’ve drawn their conclusions about the SARS-CoV-2 virus from virology and immunology. They believe and trust the science.

But Belgrade, the city where Djokovic grew up, is home to a spirited alternative-medicine scene, a seventies-Big-Sur underground of biofeedback, radiesthesia, and healing. Djokovic has for some time vibed with its holistic Weltanschauung. There was his encounter with Dr. Igor Cetojevic, a Bosnian Serb, who, while watching Djokovic on…

Read More: Djokovic’s Strange Australian Odyssey | The New Yorker

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