In the last 48 hours, the idea of Novak Djokovic competing at the Australian Open has deeply disturbed the tennis community.
Controversy shook the world when news broke of the Serbian being granted medical exemption, permitting him to enter Australia for the first Grand Slam of 2022.
While Djokovic may not have made it past the country’s border, the initial decision to overlook his vaccination status has set a huge precedent of double standards when it comes to healthcare in the sport.
In 2020, Djokovic revealed he was “opposed” to getting vaccinated against Covid-19 and he has since refused to reveal whether or not he has been jabbed.
Australia initially only granted entry into the country to those who are Australian citizens or permanent residents, or are immediate family members of the two. It was only in December 2021 the travel restrictions were expanded to allow fully vaccinated individuals with eligible visas outside of Australia to enter.
The reality of Djokovic being granted medical vaccination exemption into a country that has imposed some of the world’s toughest restrictions has slapped thousands of people in the face.
Now compare this case to Naomi Osaka at the French Open last year.
While competing at Roland Garros, the Japanese star withdrew from media duties to take a stand against the negative impact some conferences can have on players’ mental health.
“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” she wrote in an Instagram post.
“We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”
Despite receiving an outpour of support from tennis icons including Venus Williams, Martina Navratilova, and Billie Jean King, Osaka was punished for trying to safeguard her mental state.
After boycotting her first lot of press duties, she was hit with a $15,000 (£13,200) fine by all four Grand Slam tournaments for “[choosing] not to honour her contractual media obligations.”
A joint statement released by the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open stressed the importance of players’ mental health, but continued by listing the further risks of punishment facing Osaka.
Following the statement and fine from the Grand Slams, the 24-year-old revealed she had withdrawn from Roland Garros.
Osaka admitted she had been suffering bouts of depression and social anxiety, which ultimately led to her announcing she would be taking an indefinite break from the court.
Osaka’s bravery triggered a domino effect. Simone Biles was the next high profile athlete to open up on mental health issues when she withdrew from all but one event at the Tokyo Olympics.
The stigma surrounding mental illness has softened thanks to household names like Osaka and Biles, and more people are speaking up and reaching out for help.
Osaka withdrew from media duties in order to try and avoid being pulled into a state of anxiety and depression. As a result, she was fined and threatened with expulsion from the French Open unless she took part in press conferences.
Meanwhile, Djokovic has publicly revealed he is against vaccinations, but has had the rules changed in order to be allowed to compete in a country where strict travel rules have been imposed and 90 percent of citizens over 16 are fully vaccinated.
It hasn’t even been a month since Australia allowed foreigners to enter the country — and that comes with a strict set of guidelines. Guidelines Djokovic did not meet but had pardoned for him.
Tennis’ hypocrisy when it comes to addressing these issues of serious importance is staggering. One player refusing to provide a vaccination status is handed an exemption from the rules. Another who is trying to protect their mental health and serve as a voice for those who suffer in silence is punished.