Tennis racket and ball

Do Athletes Deserve Special Treatment?

Was Novak Djokovic’s outrage justified?

As Australia has a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases, officials decided to hold the famous Grand Slam tennis tournament, the Australian Open, in Melbourne this year. They arranged for players to be brought to Melbourne on charter flights. All passengers were required to have a negative test before boarding the flight. However, ten tests when they landed came back positive. None of these involved players, but coaches and staff members instead. Around 100 people were forced to quarantine, 72 of which were players due to start playing in the Australian Open on the 8th February.

Australia has very strict quarantine rules for travellers to maintain their low case numbers. The Australian Open officials had gotten rid of this quarantine for the passengers of the charter flights. However, as some had tested positive, this posed a health risk. All passengers need to obey 14-day hotel room quarantine, something yet to be introduced by the UK. This involved staying in a hotel room for 14 days, with no visitors. The regulations are much tighter than in England, where travellers are allowed to stay in their own houses. Some say that Australia’s approach is much safer, and should be adopted by England.

As the players are quarantining in a hotel room in Adelaide, they are unable to leave their rooms to practise before the tournament. This puts the 72 players at a significant disadvantage, as they are unable to practise for 2 weeks. Novak Djokovic responded to this quarantine with a list of requests that he had for himself and the rest of the players. Amongst these demands, he requested that there were fitness and training material in all the rooms, better food, and for a reduced quarantine period. He also requested that as many of the players as possible were placed in private houses with tennis courts. These changes would be a huge change for the strict rules put in place by the government, and people were outraged, branding Djokovic as ‘selfish, difficult and ungrateful’.

Officials and members of the general public were quick to respond to the situation, through social media and official statements. The most important of these was the Victoria state premier, Daniel Andrews who said “people are free to provide lists of demands, but the answer is no… There’s no special treatment here.” He made his answer to these demands clear to the players. Sports reporter Sean Callanan tweeted, ‘I hope Djokovic gets a true Australian answer to his letter… Yeah Nah. Last person in the world I’d be taking advice on COVID protocols from.’ Here Callanan criticises anti-vaxxer Djokovic’s decision to host a tennis tournament in Serbia and Croatia during the height of the pandemic last May. Now many people are criticising Victoria’s decision to fly in 1,200 people for the tournament, many of whom do not have an Australian passport, when the borders have been closed to non-citizens since 19th March 2020.

It is hard to know whether or not these requests made by the athlete were justified or not. Understandably, quarantining alone in a hotel room for 14 days must be frustrating, especially when you were previously promised five hours of play time each day by the government. The Australian Open is a prestigious tournament and these players are losing out on valuable practice time with their coaches on the court, and even the ability to exercise. However, these athletes are not exempt from the rules, and it is due to the success and correct approach of the Government that Australian Coronavirus restrictions are light in the country. It seems only fair that these players should unfortunately have to obey the same rules as everyone else.

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