Novak Djokovic missed out on competing in the Australian Open in a visa controversy that became surprisingly personal for a lot of Australians.
As the incident unfolded a good number of balanced voices started questioning the anger and pointing out the government's sloppy response to the fiasco, but the general mood was overwhelmingly vitriolic and spiteful, with Novak called a "sneaky a-hole", "entitled ****" and everything in between. There were even some tennis fans commenting that they were buying tickets simply to boo at Djokovic!
The issue was framed very much as a wrong against Australians (and more specifically Victorians) who had lived under the restrictions for so long, and against players who had to follow the rules to enter the tournament. It was as if Djokovic had directly insulted each and every person by trying to come through a back door as it were. The attitude coming from these people was "if I have to, so should he!"
Arguments have flown around about Novak's prior position on vaccines, transparency about his "status" prior to the trip, and possible dishonesty or errors in the visa application (submitted on his behalf). And quite frankly all of these arguments are irrelevant as the entire situation would not exist if it wasn't for the failed zero-Covid policy and the demonization of the un-vaccinated.
For almost two years the progressive Labour Government of Victoria - where the Open is being held - tried to convince the public that using the toughest restrictions on Earth to lock the virus out of the country until it disappears would be an effective strategy. And Scott Morrison's Liberal-National party in Federal Government, though not as tough, did little to push back against the authoritarian measures. Yet two years later it has not worked.
With the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the country has seen over a million cases in the last two weeks, showing some of the World's harshest Covid policies to be futile. Furthermore, the narrative from public officials and the 'experts' has been that if we would all just comply with every dictate and mandate - stay home, wear the mask, take the vaccine, take the booster - then we would be 'safe' and this would all go away.
Australians are rightly angry about something, but it is the wrong thing, or rather, the wrong people. It isn't Novak Djokovic or any other unvaccinated person who created an unachievable goal. As new information is indicating, Covid spreads via the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, and laying the blame for its continued existence on the latter is just craven politics.
The zero-Covid policy and the endless restrictions that followed it are the cause of the frustration, but the truth has been swallowed by the constant fear-mongering of an attention-seeking media and a government desperately trying to control the narrative. So the focus has been cleverly directed towards anyone who does not comply, making their obedience the condition by which everyone gains their freedom.
In his article for the Daily Mail Online, Dan Wootton summed up the situation quite neatly: "With Prime Minister Scott Morrison facing what's expected to be a close election within months and the media quick to express outrage at the so-called double standards, within 24 hours Djokovic had become the most hated man in Australia. Two years of such draconian policies has made Aussies angry."
Australians' growing dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement was channelled against a celebrity who was simply trying to exercise his own free will within the confines of the law, and served as a convenient distraction for an increasingly tyrannical state government.
Those critical of people like Djokovic who exercise the courage to live life their own way need to consider the source of their own misguided outrage. If two years of forcing everyone to sacrifice their individual rights for the 'safety' of all hasn't worked by now, it never will.