After being refused entry into Australia this week over his vaccination status, tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has become the latest athlete praised by Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators for bucking pandemic mitigation policies. Djokovic, who was attempting to enter the country to participate in the upcoming Australian Open tournament, is currently being confined in an immigration detention hotel while awaiting a court ruling that could potentially lead to his deportation.
The Serbian player has not publicly disclosed whether he is vaccinated, but Australian Border Force officials rejected the medical exemption he provided upon arriving in the country, which presumably means that he is unvaccinated. In response, the athlete’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, has accused Australian officials of “keeping him in captivity” and “stomping all over Novak to stomp all over Serbia and Serbian people,” while calling on “the entire freedom-loving world” to stand with his son. “They crucified Jesus and now they are trying to crucify Novak the same way and force him on his knees,” added the elder Djokovic. Aleksandar Vucic, the populist president of Serbia, has condemned the move, saying, “I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately.”
Australian’s government has defended its treatment of Djokovic. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that when Djokovic arrived “if he is not vaccinated he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.” And “if that evidence is insufficient,” he added, “then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and will be on the next plane home—there should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic.”
Like NFL star Aaron Rodgers and the NBA’s Kyrie Irving, who have refused the COVID-19 vaccine, Djokovic has received an outpouring of support from leading conservatives in the U.S. “Australia is a COVID police state. It doesn’t deserve Djokovic,” tweeted Fox News host Laura Ingraham, a post that Senator Rand Paul expressed agreement with. “Barbed wire camps for the unvaccinated?” the Kentucky Republican wrote in response to Ingraham. “When will the madness end?” Paul’s colleague, Senator Ted Cruz called Djokovic’s situation “absurd,” adding that “vaccine passports are wrong and no one should be forced to disclose their vaccination status.” Additionally, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp made known his support for the player. “I stand with Djokovic,” tweeted Schlapp.
Among Djokovic’s other new fans include Paul Joseph Watson, an associate of Infowars founder Alex Jones, who dubbed the tennis star a “political prisoner” and suggested the Australian Open dispute is foreshadowing of what will happen to anyone who refuses the vaccine. “Novak Djokovic detained for 6 hours, interrogated, treated like a terrorist, all over a vaccine exemption. An utter disgrace,” he wrote. “This is our collective future if these bastards have their way. If they can do this to a multi-millionaire superstar, what are they gonna do to you?”
A number of current and former athletes also threw their hats in with Djokovic, including Jake Bequette, a former NFL player currently running for U.S. Senate as a Republican, who hailed both Rodgers and Djokovic as modern heroes. “God bless Aaron Rodgers and Novak Djokovic for refusing to back down,” tweeted Bequette. Sergiy Stakhovsky, a professional tennis player from Ukraine, used Djokovic’s predicament to argue that politics are “interfering” with sports and that “purely political” actors are “not allowing [the] best tennis player in the world” to play in the Australian Open. Tennys Sandgren, an American professional tennis player, made a similar assertion, stating that if “politicians are stopping” Djokovic’s entry into Australia, then the country “doesn’t deserve to host a grand slam.”
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