Novak Djokovic’s vaccine ban is a disgrace to American sport



The tennis great is a victim of the stupidity of the pandemic era

through Park MacDougald

See you Novak (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

The greatest tennis player of all time, Novak Djokovic, falls victim to the stupidity of the pandemic era once again.

It was revealed on Thursday that Djokovic would do it are not allowed to compete at this year’s US Open, a tournament he has won three times and would likely be the favorite if allowed to play. The reason, of course, is the same that led to his being expelled from Australia this January just before the start of the Australian Open – Djokovic is unvaccinated and therefore barred from entering the United States despite having natural immunity to two previous Covid- infections.

It’s hard to overstate the futility of US policy here. Djokovic freely attended the 2021 US Open last August and September when vaccines were already widely available. Back then, the CDC still refused to recognize natural immunity, fans had to show proof of vaccination to enter the tournament, and over 1,000 Americans died from the virus every day. Today, due to breakthrough infections and natural immunity, the CDC’s Covid prevention recommendations “no longer differentiate based on a person’s vaccination status”, the tournament has dropped its vaccination mandate for fans and daily deaths are below 500 nationwide. To make matters even more absurd, the US doesn’t require it illegal Immigrants must be vaccinated to enter the country and are not required to be vaccinated once they have entered the country.

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The only rationale Djokovic’s critics can find is that it’s his choice not to play by the rules like everyone else, which is true. But demanding that people follow arbitrary rules just because they are the rules breeds contempt for the rules and those who make and enforce them. “Because I said so” might be a good explanation for a stubborn toddler, but it’s not a way to govern a nominally free country. And it’s a shame for tennis fans that those considerations, rather than performance on court, will decide the outcome of one of the sport’s greatest competitions, the all-time Grand Slam race between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

I wrote in January that the Australian government’s decision to deport Djokovic was political theater that served no public health justification. Australia then dropped all vaccine entry requirements for foreign travelers five months after sending the Serbian packaging. But at least the Australians had some Reason. Back then, still clinging to their “zero Covid” strategy amid the rising Omicron wave, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government feared the wrath of citizens facing some of the most draconian mitigation measures in the western world.

The U.S. ban on unvaccinated travelers, on the other hand, is pure zombie policy that reflects neither current CDC guidelines nor the reality of life in America outside of elite college campuses. There is no constituency that denies Djokovic entry – relatively few Americans even watch tennis. There is only the inertia of a government that has given up on enforcing virtually all Covid measures and yet, having previously joined the most hysterical public health voices, is unable to declare the pandemic over and to carry on.

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American tennis legend John McEnroe recently described the situation as “a joke”. For once, the normally foul-mouthed player was being too friendly.

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