Michael Pavitt

The second part of the 2022 Australian Open will begin tomorrow as the Grand Slam tournament gets underway, with the two-week Novak Djokovic sideshow having finally concluded.

It is hard to have sympathy for Djokovic, despite any political motives the Australian Government may have had for deporting the Serbian with public opinion weighted heavily against the world number one.

Tennis players were warned as far back as September that unvaccinated players would face stricter measures, albeit there was a lack of clarity over whether exemptions could be granted.

Djokovic was among the "handful" of players to be granted an exemption on medical grounds by organisers and Tennis Australia, with the public backlash viewed by many as forcing the Australian Government into action.

While there is an argument that Djokovic has found himself a pawn in a political game, the question remains over how he planned to compete at the tournament had he not tested positive for COVID-19 in December.

His conduct will remain a blot on his reputation to many. Particularly his decision to break Serbia’s COVID-19 isolation rules to participate in a photoshoot and an interview with L’Equipe after his positive test had been confirmed.

"I am extremely disappointed with the ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” Djokovic said in a statement after his visa was cancelled.

"I respect the court's ruling and I'll cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from Australia. I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love.

"I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament."

Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia today after his visa was cancelled ©Getty Images
Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia today after his visa was cancelled ©Getty Images

The fiasco has raised questions for the future, not only for Djokovic but for how sporting events will be conducted as countries seek to manage COVID-19 and return to a degree of normality.

The likes of Andy Murray and Nick Kyrgios have been critical of how the Djokovic situation has been managed, with the latter saying Australia’s handling of the case has been "really bad."

Other sporting events and nations will surely look at the chaos and view it as something to avoid in the months ahead.

The French Open will undoubtedly be the subject many will consider, with the tournament now presenting Djokovic’s next chance to secure the outright men’s record by clinching a 21st Grand Slam title.

French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu was quoted as saying earlier this month that bubbles would be in place to enable unvaccinated players to compete at the second Grand Slam tournament of the year.

Yet plenty can change in the coming months.

French President Emmanuel Macron told Le Parisien newspaper earlier this month that he really wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinated. His ambition to increase restrictions on unvaccinated members of the population will undoubtedly form a key topic of the upcoming French Presidential election.

Remaining unvaccinated could leave sports stars like Djokovic walking a tightrope in hoping local rules surrounding COVID-19 allow for them to compete at the events.

Last year largely saw athletes all in the same boat, which seemed fair given the potential unequal access of vaccines in different nations.

Unsurprisingly, given the widespread access to vaccinations in wealthy nations, there now seems to be a growing shift where vaccinated athletes will have an easier time navigating their respective seasons compared to those who are yet to be jabbed.

Beijing 2022 presents a good case study in this respect, with unvaccinated athletes required to complete a three-week quarantine period before their participation at the Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

Swiss snowboarder Patrizia Kummer, who won parallel giant slalom gold at Sochi 2014, has publicly confirmed she is not vaccinated and will enter quarantine before joining the closed loop other athletes will immediately enter.

Much was made of the impact that quarantine periods had on athletes’ performances last year, with the complaints understandable.

There is unlikely to be sympathy this time around, as the quarantine period would be directly because of a decision taken by the athlete themselves.

Vaccination policies for major events such as the FIFA World Cup will be key topics this year ©Getty Images
Vaccination policies for major events such as the FIFA World Cup will be key topics this year ©Getty Images

Several National Olympic Committees have already acted to mitigate risks for their delegations in the months ahead.

The Canadian Olympic Committee were one to require vaccinations to compete at Beijing 2022, despite the International Olympic Committee saying they were not mandatory, and only recommended.

The Papua New Guinea Olympic Committee introduced a four-year policy covering a series of events, including the Pacific Games, Commonwealth Games and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

The Barbados Olympic Association implemented a similar policy. The organisation highlighted the likelihood its athletes would have to transit through nations requiring people to be fully vaccinated, as well as the noting it had taken out insurance for 2021 to cover the delegation at events such as the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Discussions and policies over COVID-19 vaccinations seem likely to be a topic throughout the year, with the FIFA World Cup one of the major events where the issue has been raised.

Reports in September suggested the Qatari Government could insist players are vaccinated, prompting concerns some top players would be unable to compete.

Evidence of players having recovered from COVID-19 or regular negative tests have been cited as potential solutions, which would allow unvaccinated participants to compete.

A full policy has yet to be revealed for the tournament but as the Djokovic saga has shown, organisers and athletes will need to strongly consider their actions to ensure a similar situation does not impact their events.