Arguably the best tennis player in the world, he belongs squarely in the biggest conversation of all time. But tennis fans won’t see him on one of his biggest stages at the US Open as the federal government bans unvaccinated non-US citizens from entering the United States.
“Unfortunately I can’t travel to the US Open in New York this time,” said Novak Djokovic wrote on Twitter. “Good luck my fellow players! I will stay in good shape and positive mood and wait for an opportunity to compete again.”
The 35-year-old Serb is a month away from winning Wimbledon again in London. He has now won 21 Grand Slam singles titles, one fewer than the great Rafael Nadal. Nadal could very well extend that lead as Djokovic is unable to play. Regardless of whether a Djokovic-Nadal match would have happened, it robs tennis fans when the world’s best player doesn’t play anyone in New York.
And it’s all for free.
Djokovic is not vaccinated against COVID-19. His body, his choice. He could easily get the jabs and be done with it, but he’s steadfast in his principles. When it comes to science and data and protecting others from the virus, how does the vaccine stop the virus from spreading? More and more often we see triple vaccinated people who contract the corona virus. President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden even got it twice in less than two weeks despite being fully vaccinated.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky says said recently on vaccines to prevent transmission: “Our vaccines work exceptionally well. … What they can no longer do is prevent transmission.”
Also consider that Djokovic already had COVID-19 June 2020 and December 2021 and therefore has naturally acquired immunity. Several respected studies have suggested that natural immunity is also effective in preventing serious illness from the virus.
In other words, Djokovic, relatively young and in excellent health, is at little risk from COVID-19 because his body has been naturally producing what a vaccine would otherwise provide.
And when it comes to public health and safety, someone really needs to explain why Djokovic, far from anyone on a pitch, is unable to play while more than 23,000 fans fill Arthur Ashe Stadium without masks and without the same vaccination card that Djokovic is required to show before entering the country.
“At this time, ticket holders are not required to provide proof of COVID vaccination for admission to the US Open,” he said According to the event’s official website.
And while we’re on the subject, why was he allowed to play unvaccinated at the US Open last year but not with the same status in 2022?
When it comes to healthy athletes and vaccination requirements, everything has become very arbitrary. Take a nationally televised NBA game earlier this year featuring the New York Knicks at the Brooklyn Nets.
Kyrie Irving, the Nets’ unvaccinated star point guard, was not allowed to play for the home team due to New York’s COVID-19 laws at the time. but There was IrvingDressed in plain clothes and sitting on the sidelines, mingling with fans and cheering for his team, without a mask, even greeting players with high-fives and chest-bumps during time-outs.
Can you belive that? Irving was allowed to sit in the stands without a mask. He could touch his teammates and talk to people in the stands up close. But playing was considered a health risk.
Oh, and here’s the best part: New York rules allowed unvaccinated out-of-state players to play.
Tennis icon and broadcaster John McEnroe called Djokovic’s decision “a joke.”
“I don’t think it’s fair,” the ever candid McEnroe told reporters Thursday. “I think it’s a joke. I would have been vaccinated and gone and played, but he has very strong beliefs and you have to respect that.”
“At this point in the pandemic we are 2 ½ years old. I think people in all parts of the world know more about it and the idea that he can’t travel here to play for me is a joke,” he added.
A Djokovic-less Open comes as the US government allows millions of migrants into the country regardless of vaccination status. Those entering illegally come from poorer countries where vaccines are available less common.
Of course, our government does not require illegal entrants to show vaccination records. But if you are Djokovic it is an absolute necessity.
Tennis fans will be robbed this week. Djokovic, who has been No. 1 for 373 consecutive weeks (a record), will sit and watch someone else win a title he has won three times.
We will one day look back on the COVID-19 era with such shame – shame for what our leaders have done by preventing our children from going to school and requiring them to wear masks for years.
The same illogic applies to those who believe keeping Djokovic out of the country and out of the Open is a good idea.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.