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Australia might let in unvaccinated tennis stars. Don’t treat that as a win – unjabbed athletes are still being victimized


A leaked email has suggested unvaccinated tennis stars could still be allowed to play at the Australian Open. Far from being a reason to cheer, it highlights just how prejudicial sport is becoming against vaccine refusers.

Contrary to what local officials have said in recent weeks, it seems there is still hope that unvaccinated tennis players can attend the opening Grand Slam of next season in Melbourne.

According to an email circulated among stars on the women’s WTA, because the state of Victoria is expected to hit a vaccination target of 90% of the adult population, “it has been confirmed that conditions for the players at the Australian Open will improve significantly.”

In other words, unvaxxed names are allowed in.  

For those who have toed the vaccine line, testing prior to and within two days of arrival will still be needed, but otherwise they will have no quarantine, no ongoing restrictions, and “complete freedom of movement”.

Compare that to vaccine refuseniks: the leaked email indicates they will be forced into mandatory hard hotel quarantine for 14 days on arrival and have regular Covid testing imposed afterwards.

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Some might view the possibility of unvaccinated players even being allowed to set foot at the tournament as something of a triumph for personal liberty, given Australia’s torturous track record of lockdowns. 

If it is a victory, then it’s a pyrrhic one.

Consider the inequality between the vaccinated and unvaccinated: complete freedom for the jab compliers, while the rest – and recent reports suggest that is more than a third on both the men’s and women’s tours – will spend two weeks cooped up with little to no prospect of proper training.

At such an elite level, even a few days away from a full routine ahead of a major tournament can be disruptive, perhaps even decisive, for a player’s chances of success – especially if direct rivals have the opportunity to practice uninhibited.  

Being stuck in a stuffy Aussie hotel room for a entire fortnight is likely to wreak havoc with fitness and form levels, even if players arrive in plenty of time for the season-opening showpiece, the main draw of which gets underway on January 17.

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Much of the discussion about vaccine rules Down Under has naturally centered upon world number one Novak Djokovic, somewhat unoriginally dubbed ‘No-vaxx’ by some due to his previous ruminations on jabs. 

Should he attend, the Serb will be attempting to add another Aussie Open title to his record haul of nine already claimed, and would edge ahead of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in their tussle for the outright highest tally of Grand Slams.

The Serb recently refused to disclose his vaccine status, saying it was “a private matter” and an “inappropriate question” – but based on his previous statements, it seems fair to suggest that he could be among those affected by quarantine rules.

That potentially means we’d have a tennis great attempting to elevate himself onto a plinth all of his own at the top of the sport, all the while being encumbered by rules and restrictions which target personal choices about what athletes do with their bodies.

That hardly seems sporting.

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We will find out soon enough about Djokovic’s vaccine status, but some competitors have already bowed to the relentless pressure from the needle pushers.

Russian world number six Andrey Rublev recently revealed he was prepared to get jabbed to compete Down Under, saying: “If you don’t get the vaccine, then just sit in the room for two weeks and that’s it.

“In my case, I’ll get vaccinated. And whoever doesn’t want, I think, will miss the tournament.”

That came after the 24-year-old said earlier this year that “if you ask me if I can choose and I can have an option, I will not do it.”

The ever-tightening noose appears to have worked in that particular case.

Fans watching in Melbourne as Novak Djokovic and Aslan Karatsev did battle earlier this year. © Reuters

It’s not just tennis which is in this boat navigating the choppy waters of personal freedoms.

The basketball courts of the NBA have perhaps the highest-profile case of a vaccine victim in the form of the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving.

Irving has been banished from all games and training until he gets the jab as a result of dictatorial state mandates, a move which prompted some fans to storm the Nets’ Barclays Center home in protest over the weekend.   

Elsewhere, earlier this week a new ‘Covid playbook’ was unveiled for the athletes heading to the Winter Olympics in Beijing next February.

It was stiflingly restrictive – and that was just for those who are vaccinated.

Entering a ‘closed loop’, they will be tested daily for Covid and only allowed to visit approved locations.

They will also be surveilled via an application which monitors their health information for 14 days prior to their departure and during their time in China. Mask mandates will be in force, and unnecessary physical contact should – of course – be avoided at all costs.

For anyone unvaccinated athletes hoping to grace the Games, they might as well kiss their chances goodbye thanks to a 21-day enforced quarantine.

Some teams such as the USA and Canada have already said they will not even let unvaccinated athletes board the Beijing-bound planes, nipping their hopes of Olympic glory in the bud.  

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Vaccine supporters will, of course, argue that this is the whole point; by hook or by crook, getting vaccine numbers up is the only way to stop the pandemic.

Compliance eclipses liberty; freedom of choice over what you put into your body is sacrificed, regardless of your concerns or objections. 

Many athletes have and will take the vaccine freely and willing. Good for them, that is their choice and should be respected as such – just as it should for those who are reluctant to follow them.  

The same thing is happening in broader society, from New York City municipal workers to Melbourne construction crews.

Anyone hoping to go about their lives with some semblance of normality – or in some cases even keep their jobs – will be increasingly prevented from doing so unless they are fully vaccinated.

Vain attempts at dodging vaccine edicts based on religious or health reasons are being routinely dismissed in sport, such as in the case of US college football coach Nick Rolovich or NBA star Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors.

Wiggins later relented, saying: “The only options were to get vaccinated or not play in the NBA.”

Talk about a Hobson’s Choice.

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The same could be applied to a whole range of sports, where the message is increasingly clear: get your Covid shots, otherwise suffer a greatly diminished shot at success – if you’re lucky enough to be allowed to compete at all. 

In that context, while the admission of unvaccinated tennis players into Australia might seem like a win for freedom, it is a qualified one at best, riddled with caveats which indicate that unjabbed athletes will continue to be treated as second-class citizens compared to their rivals.

Suddenly doesn’t seem much like cause for celebration, does it?

By Liam Tyler

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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