Novak Djokovic & the Anti-Vax Saga: Is He Really a Hero Anymore?

4 min read
Hindi Female

“Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the hero within is revealed.”

Stuck indoors with their thoughts and online classes, these words by American politician Bob Riley have been exemplified by our children, many of whom still have no chance at a vaccination or anything resembling normalcy.

But the last few days have shown how wrongly at least one man thought it was child’s play.

Frustrated, dejected and with patience tethering precariously, in these times more than others we cling to hope and distraction.

The politicians continue to disappoint us with their political rallies, and without movie promotions, Bollywood is by and large silent, leaving children, at least, to draw inspiration from sporting idols, whether it is cricket or formula one.


Through the pandemic, professional sport has been fortunate to get a special status. Players- whether football, tennis or cricket stars may have played tournaments in a bubble but at least they entered stadiums while schools remained closed, and children forgot what it is like to play.

Their consolation was watching champions like Novak Djokovic from their stifling indoors which is why the champion’s recent behavior is no less than a betrayal.

In a world gone awry, where people are looking to find their feet again, the tennis champion has shown that this idol has feet of clay.

In the last few days Djokovic has done everything possible to reveal he is not the people’s champion.

The pandemic has been a two year long process of separating the wheat from the chaff where the lesson was more for the adults than the children- we were either one for all or each for themselves.

There was a choice, and Djokovic opted to take his game outside the court, showing time and again that he didn’t care if he infected others or lied- whether blatantly or by omission.

“Djokovic is playing by his own rules… it takes a lot of daring to do and putting the grand slam at risk,” world no 4, Stefanos Tsitsipas echoed an astounded global audience that finds nothing subtle in the Serb’s behaviour.

The pandemic is not just about us, even the children who learnt that lesson early could have told Djokovic that.

We masked up to save others, we vaccinated to curb the spread. Djokovic instead stayed within his comfort zone, hugging children without a mask when he was COVID positive.

He also did a magazine shoot smiling into the camera as though COVID was his to spread and not for the first time, he has done justice to it.

In May 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Djokovic organized a tournament where players relaxed by clubbing in a vortex of adrenaline, virus, and celebration.

The world watched the horror show as shirtless and without mask in a crowded night club, the Serbian led the merry dance. Not unexpectedly, many fell sick including Djokovic and his wife.

But it was us who were left with a sickening feeling- time had come to separate a player and his talent from a man and his arrogant entitlement.

He is the same man who called out Naomi Osaka to ‘play by rules’ after her inability to attend a press conference while battling mental health issues.

The second fall from grace couldn’t have been timed any worse. We are at a juncture where patience is thin, a wrong step is just a step away and the chain refuses to break.

In these circumstances, being the most high- profile member of the anti-vaxxers club asking for exemption to chase personal records is wrong messaging when all we are looking for is to keep motivated


So much for his powerful return of serve, the world no 1 has instead showcased how there is no depth in his game off court.

He has not owned up to any mistake, simply dismissing them or blaming an anonymous team member.

The children who are watching know the first rule in the book is acceptance and apology. None has come. They have also been taught that a mistake is not a mistake twice.

We encourage our children to pursue a sport because we want them to follow the trajectory of sporting legends that goes beyond just a match. It makes them disciplined, focused and allows them to learn the importance of being a team player.

Children learn sacrifice and failure without even realizing it. From a young age, whether on a cricketing field or a badminton court they are taught that not every match finishes in a win.

Just a small percentage of these children become successful in professional sport, but the lessons learnt while growing up are invaluable, traits that come in handy even in a corporate job.

But most of all sport teaches respect and Djokovic just showed his complete disregard for it.

On the contrary, his one- dimensional pursuit for a record title at the expense of jeopardizing lives shows that he may win his 21st grand slam but by paying a heavy price. He lost what counts.

Djokovic may be the greatest of the times, but he no longer ticks many boxes as a role model. At the rate the disclosures of rules being flouted are being made, there could be more in the pandora’s box.

For all Virat Kohli’s aggression on the field, he has never played for individual goals at the expense of all that makes sports sacred.

Djokovic’s community of legions of fans may be more forgiving but how will history remember him? No one can force Djokovic to vaccinate. But as Rafa Nadal put it,” there are consequences,” and there should be otherwise our children will learn that good guys don’t always come first.

(Jyotsna Mohan is the author of the book 'Stoned, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India's Teens.' You can get the book here.)

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Topics:  celebrities   COVID-19   COVID Vaccines 

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