In a BBC interview with a positively gushing Amol Rajan this morning (15 February), the Serbian world tennis number one Novak Djokovic has confirmed that he is willing to miss out on major tournaments, including Wimbledon, rather than lose his right to choose whether to have the Covid vaccine.
“That is the price I am willing to pay!” the self-professed libertarian told Rajan, adding “I was never against vaccination. But I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
Djokovic, who describes himself as a student of wellness, went on to claim, as he has done before, that he has an “open mind” on the efficacy of Covid vaccinations, adding that he is in no way “anti-vax” because he had vaccinations as a child. All he wants is the right to choose and the “freedom to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can”.
Many listeners tuning into the kid-gloves interview, first broadcast on Radio 4’s Today programme, might have been forgiven for thinking that this all sounded fairly reasonable. Djokovic certainly did not come across as some unhinged wing-nut, and Rajan’s failure to properly challenge him about why he believed his bodily purity would be compromised by the vaccine left the assertion ambiguously hanging in the airwaves.
But Djokovic is no idiot. He speaks six languages and is very obviously articulate. More than that, he is an extremely successful and thus influential figure. And therein lies an enormous problem.
For even as Covid has engulfed our world, even as it has claimed an estimated six million lives and rendered havoc upon health, jobs, global economies and the very certainties of our lives, we have seen the emergence of two other pandemics in its wake. One of extreme entitlement and a sort of “rules don’t apply to us” elitism, and the other of dangerous anti-scientific rhetoric.
Djokovic is a perfect storm of those two fronts. This hugely privileged individual, cosseted and pampered by an adoring press, propped up by unbelievable wealth and egged on by his doting global fanbase has long espoused ludicrous anti-scientific guff – and been afforded a platform from which to preach it.
Djokovic has also professed a belief in telepathy and telekinesis. In May 2020 he claimed in an Instagram live interview with a self-proclaimed “wellness guru” that “toxic” water could be altered through “energetical transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude… into healing water”. And contrary to his current stance on having jabs, in April 2020, he said he was “opposed to vaccination”.
Djokovic is a global figure, and with that comes both immense influence and enormous responsibility. While the vast majority of people both in the UK and the rest of the world believe, rightly, in the science and efficacy of Covid vaccinations, there remains a significant anti-vax rump of millions whose righteous anti-scientific scepticism will have been reinforced by the tennis star’s pronouncements.
Of course, Mr Djokovic is entitled to believe whatever he likes. He would be well within his rights to believe in a flat Earth and a hologram moon inhabited by dancing pink pixies. But equally, his fellow competitors, tournament organisers and wider society have a right to hold him to account if his entitlement prevents him from abiding by the rules.
[See also: Does Novak Djokovic deserve any sympathy?]