PBS NewsHour


Djokovic battles with Australia after violating COVID rules

The best men's tennis player in the world is caught up in a quarantine quandary in Australia, as the first of this year's Grand Slam tennis tournaments is poised to begin. Novak Djokovic is not vaccinated: he's a skeptic. Australian officials are not skeptics, and demand proof of vaccination to enter the continent. Nick Schifrin reports.

AIRED: January 14, 2022 | 0:07:26

JUDY WOODRUFF: The best men's tennis player in the world has been caught up in a legal battle in

Australia, as the first of this year's Grand Slam tennis tournaments is poised to begin.

Novak Djokovic is not vaccinated. He is a skeptic. Australian officials

are not skeptics, and demand proof of vaccination to enter the continent.

Nick Schifrin tells us more.

STEPHEN COLBERT, Host, "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert": Ladies and gentlemen,

please welcome Novak Djokovic.


NICK SCHIFRIN: He is one of the world's most famous athletes, but also one of its

most famous vaccine skeptics, as he told fellow Serbian athletes on an April 2020 Facebook Live.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC, Professional Tennis Player (through translator): Personally,

I am opposed to vaccination. I am curious about well-being and how we can empower

our metabolism to be in the best shape to defend against impostors like COVID-19.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In December, the man who called COVID an impostor tested positive the

same day he celebrated his official postal stamp by walking around a museum unmasked.

The day after that, he posed for a French magazine. In fact, in late December, Djokovic

was training in Belgrade, as seen in social media videos and photos, and Spain. But on his visa

applications, he claimed he had not traveled for two weeks before arriving in Australia in January.

WOMAN: Whatever way you look at, Novak Djokovic is a lying, sneaky (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

NICK SCHIFRIN: This viral TV clip reflects Australian fury at Djokovic receiving an

entry exemption, while other Australians and immigrants face tight border controls

and have lived through one of the world's longest lockdowns.

But the criticism extends to the government's own back-and-forth. On

December 30, state authorities granted his visa. When he landed on January 5,

federal authorities rejected it. On January 10, a judge reinstated it. And, today,

the immigration minister personally canceled the visa for -- quote -- "health and good order."

Djokovic's team has argued his exemption was valid because he had natural immunity from his prior

infection, and that errors on his visa forms were -- quote -- "an administrative mistake."

They also said the conditions in the hotel where he was being held were unfair,

as his mother, Dijana, said in Melbourne.

DIJANA DJOKOVIC, Mother of Novak Djokovic: They are keeping him as a prisoner.

It's just not fair. It's not human.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Now we turn to Mary Carillo,

the Grand Slam-winning former tennis player and now commentator for NBC sports.

Mary Carillo, welcome to the "NewsHour."

Djokovic's fate will be decided by a court this weekend.

MARY CARILLO, Sportscaster and Former Professional Tennis Player: Yes.

NICK SCHIFRIN: But you do not believe that he should play

on Monday, when he's scheduled to start the Australia Open. Why?


I just think it's gone on way too long. This has been so chaotic and unnecessary

and unfair to all the other players in the locker room. And Novak himself, look,

he's had terrible preparation for this. This is a tournament he's won nine times.

He's trying to win his 21st major, which would put him beyond Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

This is a guy who is so precise in his footwork on the court, but he has made so many missteps.

He's lost the favor of the country and the locker room, in my opinion.

And, yes, I think he -- I think he's got to pull out.

NICK SCHIFRIN: And I think it's not only about missteps, nor is it really just about

his vaccine skepticism, of course. He lied on his immigration forms.

He went to an event the day after testing positive for COVID. Do you think that he just

doesn't care, or does he believe the rules don't apply then?

MARY CARILLO: Oh, I -- he regrets what he did, that he -- after he knew he was COVID-positive,

that he went unmasked, and he went to a couple of different events.

He had an interview with a French reporter, didn't tell the guy that he was COVID-positive. These are

huge mistakes. I think, in the beginning of the week, when all this nonsense was happening,

the locker room thought, well, it was a loophole, it's kind of

kind of sketchy, but it would be good to have him in here now.

I think everything's moved away from that. There was a poll taken. More than 60,000

Aussies were asked what they thought Djokovic -- should happen to Djokovic,

and 83 percent of them want him to leave the country.

And, again, I cannot imagine that this man, who I think is the greatest player

of all time, certainly the best hard court player I have ever seen,

and he does so many things so well,, man, he really screwed this up.

NICK SCHIFRIN: There's a lot of faults, pun intended, to go around.

State authorities, Tennis Australia clearly wanted to get around the rules.


NICK SCHIFRIN: The prime minister now being criticized for using Djokovic

to make a political point during a COVID surge.

MARY CARILLO: All that is true.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Where do you ascribe the most blame?

MARY CARILLO: All that is true. I agree with all of that.

Novak tried to come into this - - the country of Australia

thinking he had the requisite paperwork. He thought that the state of Victoria,

where the Australian Open is played, in Melbourne, he thought he was all set.

And then it turns out he couldn't get into the country. I mean, Novak

was trying to get into that country, thinking he was cool, he was all set. And he wasn't.

And I blame Tennis Australia. I blame the tournament director,

Craig Tiley. Everybody seems to be tone-deaf. I mean, the back-and-forth on this stuff

has been rough. And the absence of Serena Williams and Venus Williams and Roger Federer,

I mean, Novak -- obviously, this was going to be a big, big story.

And now it's all this other stuff that's become the big story. And it's -- as somebody who loves

my sport, it's just been so painful to watch this. It just seems unending. At a certain point,

we will know what happens. But it's gone on too long. And I feel badly about that.

NICK SCHIFRIN: And, as someone who loves tennis as well,

it's painful for me, and someone who likes to watch him. It's painful.


NICK SCHIFRIN: But he's got 20 Grand Slams, as you said,

tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Federer is not playing. Nadal is playing.


NICK SCHIFRIN: Djokovic this year likely to win number 21.

Bottom line, will this controversy cost him his legacy?

MARY CARILLO: It will cost him, I think, his personal legacy.

You cannot take away all the majors that this remarkable tennis player has already won. But

this is a big smear. And he's been controversial for years now over all manner of things. He got

thrown out of the U.S. Open a couple of years ago for inadvertently hitting a lineswoman.

I think it -- yes, I think it stains his legacy. And, God, I just -- the interesting

problem for him now is, if he is to be deported, it means he can enter the country of Australia

for three years. That's a potential. And this is the tournament where he's won his most majors.

And other nations, other countries, other Grand Slam events, they're -- they seem to

always be shifting their goalposts on what's what's possible to get into a country or not.

So, oh, boy, he's a very intelligent guy, but this has just been -- there have been so many

mistakes made and so many, to use tennis terms, unforced errors on his part, and

a lot of the people around him. Everyone seems tone-deaf on this. It's a great, great pity.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Mary Carillo, thank you very much.

MARY CARILLO: My pleasure.


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