No aspect of life today has remained ‘uninfected’ by the coronavirus.
In the realm of sports, the popular English Premier League, for instance, has seen the postponement of games because players and support staff have contracted the virus. Closer to home, the 2022 International Cricket Council Under-19 (Men) Cricket World Cup being hosted in the West Indies for the first time, bowled off a few days ago with spectators disallowed from attending.
The influence of the pandemic in the sports world came to the fore in the New Year as world number one tennis player, Serbian Novak Djokovic journeyed ‘Down Under’ to defend his title at the Australia Open.
Here’s the match summary: Djokovic, who’s unvaccinated, failed to acquire a proper medical exemption ahead of his flight to Australia and listed inaccurate information in his travel declaration form. His visa was revoked but reinstated days later after his lawyers won on appeal. He was able to leave the detention centre and head off to the tennis court for practice.
But it was an extremely brief reprieve as days later the visa was cancelled again and his second appeal at the Australian Federal Court was summarily dismissed. Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” by the second ruling but respected it. The national federation that runs the Australian Open, Tennis Australia, said it respected the decision of the Federal Court. Within hours of the ruling, Djokovic was deported.
Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke was responsible for Djokovic’s second visa cancellation, and said his decision serves the “public interest”. “Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world,” Hawke is reported to have said.
It should be noted that organisers of The Australian Open instituted a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for all players on November 19, 2021. It’s also been reported that since 2020, Djokovic has repeatedly refused to publicly divulge his vaccination status and once said he was “opposed” to vaccinations entirely. Sound familiar?
Around the world, patience for those who, by choice, are unvaccinated is running out. “Balancing the incontrovertible human right to refuse a vaccine against the rights of others not to be held hostage by that decision is the single biggest challenge of this stage of the pandemic, and that’s what makes Djokovic’s case resonate far beyond tennis,” wrote The Guardian UK columnist Gaby Hinsliff.
Even here in T&T, that delicate balance has begun to play with the government working on policy, to come into effect in mid-February, to ensure unvaccinated public servants do not turn up to work. The trade union movement is opposed to this policy and has called on all its members, vaccinated and unvaccinated, to resist.
Tensions are increasing. Sunday last, the police had to fire tear gas to disperse persons opposed to the Covid-19 vaccination mandate at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
To use tennis terminology, when will this ‘rally’ end?
The answer may well be to continue inviting those still sitting on the fence—or the net—to get vaccinated.
“Vaccines are not a magical means of healing, yet surely they represent, in addition to other treatments that need to be developed, the most reasonable solution for the prevention of the disease,” Pope Francis told ambassadors from the 183 countries at his annual meeting with the diplomatic corps January 10.
It may be a ‘long shot’, but it’s the best ‘serve’.