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Lessons from the Novak Djokovic Visa Row

This weeks Christian Today column – you can read the original here

Lessons from the Novak Djokovic Row

Novak Djokovic was excited. He had been granted an exemption to participate in the Australian Open in Melbourne – a tournament he has won nine times. He was so excited that as he left Dubai on the 14-hour flight to Melbourne he made the mistake of tweeting his joy at being permitted to go. But then it all went wrong.

He was detained at the airport – kept in a room on his own with armed police and eventually sent to a government hotel used for refugees. He has appealed and his court case will be heard on Monday, where the expectation is that he will be deported.

What happened? The story has much to teach about contemporary society. Not least the fact that everyone with a search engine can quickly find enough information to support their immediate emotional reaction.

There are those who just know that Djokovic has been discriminated against – especially if you Serbian or Russian. And there are those who see Djokovic as a hero of the anti-vax movement.

As his father Srdjan told Russian media: “Tonight they can throw him in a dungeon, tomorrow they can put him in chains. The truth is he is like water and water paves its own path. Novak is the Spartacus of the new world which won’t tolerate injustice, colonialism and hypocrisy.”

There are others who just know that this is the Australian government being fair to everyone. After all, why should a rich celebrity tennis star be allowed to come into the country when he has not been vaccinated, as the rules demand? (Australians can come in without being vaccinated – it’s just foreigners who must obey that rule). Djokovic arrogantly assumed he would be allowed into the country because he was Djokovic. Good for the Australian government for deporting him!

But as ever, the story is somewhat more nuanced and complex. I have a degree of sympathy with both positions. Tennis Australia and the Victorian government gave Djokovic an exemption to enable him to play at the Melbourne Open. The Department of Home Affairs granted him a visa, but the Australian Border Force did not permit him to leave the airport and cancelled his visa. Why? When Djokovic boarded his plane there would have been ABF officers there. Why was he allowed to board the plane? What had changed in Melbourne?

The answer is a disturbing one. Thanks to Djokovic’s ill-advised tweet, suddenly there was political pressure and outrage. Where there is outrage, there is Twitter – and so the mob was soon stirred. Journalists, politicians and celebrities piled in, expressing their disgust at Djokovic being given favourable treatment. One lovely tweet declared, ‘I hope Novak contracts Covid again down here and can’t even play in the Australian Open.’ An ABC journalist posted a ‘joke’ suggesting that waiters in Australia would want to spit in the tennis star’s food.

The political and media classes think that social media is the voice of the people and so suddenly the government that had initially given Djokovic the visa, demanded that the evidence (which one presumes they had already assessed before granting the visa) should be shown at the airport.

The story is a national embarrassment for Australia and a humiliation for Djokovic. But surely the rules are the rules? One of the interesting changes in the past couple of years is how people who prided themselves as free spirited, rebels and rule breakers have suddenly come to be quite obsessive about keeping the rules. While laws are essential in any society, we need to be wary of the cry of authoritarians down the ages – ‘it’s the rules’. Who makes the rules, what are the rules based on, and who interprets them?

Boris Johnson was quick to praise the Australian government for their tough stance on vaccines. One wonders if Djokovic will be allowed to play at Wimbledon? The Prime Minister seemed to have no problem with the thousands of FIFA officials who came to the UK or the COP26 delegates. They were not asked to quarantine or vaccinate. There is a widespread sense that the rules are somewhat selectively applied.

It was argued that the criteria used for revoking the visa was the Public Interest Criterion 4007 of the Migration Act which provides that a visa applicant must be “free from a disease or condition that is, or may result in the applicant being, a threat to public health in Australia or a danger to the Australian community”. Given that these criteria applied to the visa when it was originally granted one wonders what could have changed. In addition, Djokovic has had Covid-19 and so will have the antibodies.

The rules say that everyone who comes in has to be vaccinated. But why? There are around 100,000 cases per day at the moment in Australia – 25,000-plus in Victoria. It is hardly as though Djokovic is going to be bringing a disease that no one in Melbourne has! In fact, the current Covid case rise in Australia far outstrips that in Djokovic’s native Serbia! He’s coming into danger – not bringing it.

But this has to do with the vaccine. We know that the vaccine does not stop you getting, or spreading, Covid. It stops most people getting seriously ill and is a great help in stopping hospitals being overwhelmed. But there is no logical reason to prevent someone coming into a country already filled with Covid just because they do not have a vaccine. This situation just shows up the anomalies created by the various Covid measures.

Do the rules make sense? And are the rules fair? Scott Morrison, the Australian PM, certainly thinks this is about everyone getting a ‘fair go’. But is everyone treated equally? My experience, and that of many others, is that this is not the case. Last year I was not allowed to fly home to see my dying father or attend his funeral. But Hollywood stars seemed free to come and go to Australia as they pleased. I know of several people who were able to visit the US and the UK because they had both the connections and the money.

And what if Mr Djokovic is not being treated fairly? There are others at the Melbourne tournament who were given exemptions. What if it is his very fame which has caused his predicament? Governments who operate on the basis of ‘nudge’ theory are very keen for sports stars they consider as role models to be giving the right message. In a week where four people who tore down a statue in England were found not guilty partly because they were ‘on the right side of history’, what if Novak Djokovic was just on the wrong side of history – and politics?

In a society which is based entirely upon the rules laid down by politicians and bureaucrats, there is no room for mercy, forgiveness or common sense. Where everything is regulated down to the last jot and tittle, where corporate power and mob rule go hand in hand, and where everything is politicised, there is the enormous danger that the ‘equality of all before the law’ – one of the gifts which Christianity brought to the West – is in danger of being lost. This is not just about tennis. It is about justice and equality – for all.

David Robertson

After I wrote this – today’s Australian has a superb column by Chris Kenny saying much the same thing.  In case it is behind a firewall here are a few of the best quotes…

“Djokovic was given proof of vaccination exemption from Tennis Australia and Victoria, and applied for and was granted a visa from the federal government. But he spends this weekend in detention, as yet another target for public Covid shaming and political grandstanding.”

“Plenty in the community denounce Djokovic, the multi-­millionaire Serbian. The public have been conditioned by politicians, hysterical media and even some leading medicos to denounce the unvaccinated as if they are viral-terrorists – infected, dangerous, and deliberately acting as superspreaders.”

“It is absurd that we are encouraged to treat the unvaccinated as lepers given that more than 90 per cent of our compatriots are vaccinated and the latest virus variant is spreading wildly, mainly via fully vaccinated people.The unvaccinated are a risk to themselves, not the rest of us.As a fully vaccinated person, I could care less whether the person next to me is vaccinated or not. But mobs like to identify a bogeyman, and politicians love to fuel such antipathy to justify their power grabs and deflect criticism.”

“The paranoid fear one more infection when we are dealing with more than 70,000 new cases a day. They seemingly resent their own jabs and compliance with the rules and only draw comfort from others being forced to comply.”

“We are sending healthy nurses and doctors home from hospital because they have been in close proximity to, wait for it, sick people. We are crippling other workplaces with similar precautions, leaving some supermarket shelves empty.We have overstretched our Covid testing systems by encouraging everyone to get tested; yet the infected are told to go home and take Panadol. We know Covid can kill the vulnerable and unvaccinated, so with strains becoming increasingly mild we ought to focus less on case numbers and more on those who are ill.”

“To keep these people happy, and to make our leaders seem gritty, we reject from this country a Covid-recovered, negative-tested tennis star who was granted a proof of vaccination exemption and a visa.It is embarrassing for a country once seen as welcoming, rational and easygoing. The rejection of Djokovic – the return of Serb – is not a sensible or science-based approach, except for political science.”

“But when it comes to rules, Djokovic arrived only after being granted exemptions and a visa. He was not to know he would be used as a convenient whipping boy in an ongoing pantomime – a Covid theatre of fear, paranoia and political one upmanship that ensured his case would receive exceptional scrutiny.So long as we have high vaccination rates and vaccines show limited efficacy in halting infections and transmissions, the unvaccinated imperil themselves and not us. We should not easily trample on their rights, because it sets a bad precedent and demeans our democracy.”

“Certainly, the rich and famous should not be afforded any special favours, as they infamously were in Queensland, spirited across borders while bereaved Queenslanders or sick southerners were denied. Yet, in those and similar episodes in other states the problem was not the treatment of the stars but that similar common sense was not applied to the rest of us.”

“There are two reasons the Djokovic case is an abomination. First, he abided by the rules as they were outlined. Second, those rules have become redundant – mandatory testing is sensible to minimise infections in the confined spaces of 14-hour flights, but vaccination status hardly matters now when both our vaccination and infection rates are so high.”

“The Djokovic Djoke shows how the federal government apparatus has been caught up in the same paranoia, crowd-pleasing and disproportionate nonsense that has bedevilled five states.Having deliberately fuelled fear and anxiety for two years – first to get people to follow the rules, then to justify their actions – the politicians and bureaucrats are now servants to the baying mobs they have created.Oppositions have been too timid to call it out, preferring to profit from outrage and trepidation. Most media are addicted to Covid catastrophism, drawing eyeballs with hysteria and downplaying or ignoring the social and economic costs.”



  1. What’s the difference between Pablo Escobar and Anthony Fauci ?

    Pablo didn’t force you to take his drug.

  2. The entire world is in the grip of insane ‘scientists’ and gutless politicians who have taken the knee to ‘science’ which has been elevated to the status of a god.

    IF people didn’t delegate their thinking to others and IF they did their own personal research into covid and this latest variation – like all viruses covid is in the class of obligate transmutable meaning it is going to mutate and mutate and will be with us in one form or another – and If people were influenced by hard facts and evidence we may just not be in this mess because people just wouldn’t stand being lied to.

    Facts: 8 billion on Planet Earth

    Covid deaths 5. 3 million ….in TWO Years

    UK Average age of those deceased from Covid…83 years and 6 months.

    For the most intelligent creature on the Planet we humans are the most STUPID.

  3. It has become something of a misnomer to continue calling the competition the Australian “Open”, if a previous winner, the reigning champion, is now being prevented from defending his title. Australia is now a laughing stock.

    I took the view, when these vaccines were first offered, that it was a personal decision whether to have them or not. I couldn’t condemn anybody for having the vaccine, or for not having it. Coercion to take the vaccine, a wicked departure from normal medical ethics in which various Australian governments have distinguished themselves, becoming a stench in the nostrils of the whole world, has changed all that. I now see that anybody who gave coerced consent to be vaccinated after coercion to consent had made valid voluntary consent impossible, as a willing accomplice of the sinning health professional who administered the vaccine with only invalid, coerced consent. That includes you. And that, David, is why I believe that though once you could see clearly, now you have apparently become at best partially sighted.

    I wouldn’t consent to receive even a vaccine I thought might be good for me and for society that I was being coerced to consent to have, on principle. You have abandoned that principle, a principle for violating which Nazis were condemned at the Nuremberg trails, and have joined the wrong side on this pressing moral question of the age, the devil’s side, by giving in to that coercion. I pity you. Unless and until you repent of this sin, your guilt remains, and you will continue to be the trumpet that gives an uncertain sound, failing to alert those who hear your ambiguous voice to prepare for battle.

    We should not pass judgment on disputable matters. It is the coercers who have acted in such a manner as to make the matter no longer disputable. You could and should have worked all this out, before you compromised with the devil. You failed in that. May God have mercy on you, and bring you to repentance for your sin.

    1. I’m puzzled by your comment, as I thought David had his vaccine before the coercion began?
      It seems as though you are judging David when it is not your place to do so.
      Perhaps David truly thought it was the best decision medically at the time, and even if he was wrong about the scientific data (which many people were, not surprisingly) it doesn’t make it a sin, unless he was acting selfishly or going against his conscience or a known commandment.
      Your comment does not come across as speaking the truth in love, nor does it fit with the teaching of James 4:11-12.

      1. Thanks Johanna – I had the vaccine because I think it is a good thing and will help protect me from serious illness. Having undergone serious respiratory illness – almost to the point of death – I am considered a vulnerable person for this. John says he wouldn’t consent to having a vaccine which was good for him – that’s irresponsible and more than a little wacky. To ask people to repent of freely choosing to have a vaccine is bizarre – to then state that they were coerced (if you consent you are not coerced) is more than a little illogical….but these are the kind of comments we have to put up with. Sometimes people go a little over the top in their obsessions…

      2. I think it is time we became willing to discuss the vaccination programme, including the rights and wrongs of the full range of possible Christian responses to it, arguing our cases vigorously.

        David wishes to avoid answering my argument that compliance has become sinful, except by contradiction. I don’t believe he has an answer that refutes the argument. I really want David to start thinking about the point I have made, for God’s glory and for David’s own good.

        I believe that David still believes he did the right thing in being jabbed, and has become incapable even of *understanding* my point, let alone answering it. I will give thought as to whether my attempt to provoke a real response to my argument was too ad hominem. Even if it was, I am not judging David by any standard that I am unwilling to be judged by myself though.

        I do not think that there are any scientific facts that are disputed, upon which the decision turns whether to consent to a receive a vaccine that it has become clear a civil power has decided, and is threatening to make obligatory. We don’t need to talk about science at all, to arrive at sound conclusions about the clearcut rights and wrongs of compliance with coercion that exceeds the authority of government.

      3. The argument that those who are taking the vaccine are committing a sin against God is an absurd one. What in effect you are doing is making a sin anything which you do not agree with. That is not only foolish but blasphemous. It is itself sinful. You do not have the right to declare what is sin and not sin – that only belongs to God. To claim you are doing this for God’s glory and my good is self-righteous vanity….There is a limit to my patience…if you continue to spout this blasphemy then it won’t be cited here. Enough.

    2. I completely agree with you, JohnAllman. This is the first wee flea article I have read for many months, perhaps over a year. Same disappointment as the last time. No insight into the lies and coercion. No discernment on the failure of the church. Sad days.

    3. The archaic term ‘ Open’ refers to the fact that the competition is Open to both amateurs and professionals as every Scottish golfer knows.

  4. Me thinks, “The pot is calling the kettle black”!
    David seems to have the balance in this matter just right. There is a plethora of information & opinion on both sides of this dispute, occasionally some good & reliable, and often much false & questionable.
    From a Christian & Biblical perspective, it seems to me we are all responsible under God to evaluate as best we can (amongst all the confusion chaos and deception) and seek the Lord in prayer to make the right decisions without being judgemental of those who differ from us.
    Certainly ostrascising others seems thoroughly un-Chritian, as Jesus touched the Leper, and those not vaccinated seem at greater risk than those vaccinated. We are fully vaccinated & boosted, and are enjoying blessed fellowship with Brethren not vaccinated, quite happy to hug them, and hold their hand in prayer when they are in distress.
    Sadly, it seems far too much of society, and the Church, have become polarised & gripped by fear; where we need to be trusting the Lord & honouring His Word to love & embrace each other in Biblical gathering together & fellowship.
    We actually had to withdraw from a so called Evangelical Church because it was insisting on adhering to all the man made Governmental rules & restrictions, to the detriment & disobedience of the commands of Scripture. May the peace of our Lord guard our hearts & minds through Jesus Christ in accordance with the Holy Ghost.

  5. Dear David

    Regarding JohnAllmanUK’s comment he actually said.

    ‘I wouldn’t consent to receive even a vaccine I thought might be good for me and for society that I was being coerced to consent to have, on principle. ‘

    You have taken his words out of context and not read through to the end of the sentence. I am surprised that you did not double check before you made your comment.

    Kind regards


    1. I did read through to the end of the sentence. The point still stands. If you are coerced it is not consent. If you refuse something to make a point against something that does not make sense – you are not wise!

  6. David, I think there are two mistaken assumptions in what you gave argued here.
    One is: ‘When Djokovic boarded his plane there would have been ABF officers there. Why was he allowed to board the plane? What had changed in Melbourne?’ No, this would likely not have been the case. If anyone had stopped him boarding it would have been airline employees, not ABF officers. And the airline would have had no reason to stop him boarding.
    The second is that I think that anyone can be stopped from entering a country at the border. A visa in your passport or not is no guarantee that you will be allowed to leave the airport.
    Not ‘nit-picking’ … simply suggesting some mistaken assumptions.

  7. The danger of assumptions!
    Does Balmichael, above, have some sort of special insight into David R’s reading and checking abilities? Was he ‘looking’ over David’s shoulder as he wrote his comment? The use of the accusative ‘You’ flavours, and stains, his last paragraph.

    In a similarly accusative vein, John Allman (8 and 9 Jan.,above) makes claims which lose their effectiveness because they personally denigrate a perceived opponent.

    May God bring us all to our knees, seeking His mercy, grace and forgiveness.

  8. The 2021 debate between Prof John Wyatt and Dave Brennan covered vaccine ethics in a polite and reasonable way. Their talk may still be online (possibly at Christian Concern website). Ancient wisdom sometimes applies, perhaps, with the hysteria unhelpful around coronavirus vaccine use: ‘Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.’
    The moral issues, about vaccine acceptance, are a great deal more complicated than is commonly imagined. I received the vaccine course. A few thoughts occur:-
    1 With a global health crisis and a new infection, this is certainly not the time to delegate vaccination policy or practice to bar room or drinks counter ‘experts’.
    2 The 1970’s cell harvest may well have been done by people who had deluded ideas in terms of both science and morals (pro-life arguments grow ever stronger as science advances)
    3 The 1970’s cell lines do exist and may save lives now. We cannot bring back-‘HEK 293’-by vaccine refusal.
    4 Those receiving vaccine (tested or grown in fetal cells) might wish to prayerfully consider supporting a pro-life charity, as a faithful opposition to abortion. Might we prevent further HEK293 type deaths?
    5 ‘Knowledge is power’ so it’s always good to publicise the work of SPUC, Brephos, CBRUK.
    6 Sarah Weddington allegedly said: “..I think of Roe v. Wade as a house that’s sitting on the edge of a beach, where the water is coming under it and taking the sand out…” Belivers should stay united against a weakening abortion industry, with poor moral (‘amoral’) arguments.
    7 It’s possible to receive vaccine as a pro-life Christian. We cannot know the exact provenance of cell lines or if their use was absolutely essential, in vaccine production and testing.
    8 Questions around alternatives, for vaccine growth and testing, raise subtle ethical problems.
    9 Is there a moral difference between growth and testing of a vaccine in human cells?
    10 Let’s suppose an ideal vaccine (single jab, minuscule side-effects, excellent efficacy) existed. Is it fair for consumers to miss out on the benefit, because the manufacturer chose to use human cell lines connected to 1970’s abortion, rather than available alternatives?
    11 Our collective ignorance, on viruses and vaccines, means that a knee jerk response is unhelpful. Should we oppose Tetanus vaccine or routine childhood jabs on the basis of cell line use queries?
    12 Dr Van Tham’s Christmas lecture may have viewed clean water and vaccination as two of the best ways to improve human health.
    Vaccines untested or grown in fetal cell lines can be a prayer/hope for the future, even if we accept the currently available national vaccines.

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