Every once in a while, the fate of a single individual serves to highlight the tensions that simmer almost perpetually beneath the surface of sport and politics. But rarely have so many contradictions come together as ruthlessly as they have done over the past couple of weeks in the quest of Novak Djokovic to compete in the Australian Open.
The World No 1 male tennis player, a proud Serbian national, was hoping not only to defend his men’s singles title, but to secure a record 21st Grand Slam victory, and so become the most successful men’s player ever. This double ambition gave his participation an extra edge. There was also a degree of urgency. At 34, he is not getting any younger. If he missed his chance in Australia, he might miss it for good.
Everything looked set fair for Djokovic, when he set off for Melbourne on 4 January, with what appeared to be a valid visa, granted thanks to a “medical exemption”. In theory, this allowed him to enter Australia regardless of his vaccination status. But things went wrong almost immediately.
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