Jean-Jacques Cornish

Striving to become the anti-vax poster boy

He could have stopped the expulsion process dead in its tracks.

All Novak Djokovic had to do was stop by a medical facility and get a COVID vaccination.

He could have done this while being kept in a migrant detention facility at the start of his ill-fated latest visit to Australia..

He could have done it while waiting for coup d’grace from Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke after winning the first round in the legal battle to stay in Melbourne to defend his Australian Open.

This is not how Djokovic rolls.

“I like a challenge,” he told Australian great Todd Woodbridge who spent time with him as he waiting for the final blow.

What makes the inscrutable Djokovic so formidable is his perseverance. Some would call it pig-headedness

Down by two sets, five games and forty love against another grand slam winner, it is still inadvisable to bet against him.

So, no surprise that he should take on one of the most forbidding immigration systems in the world.

So stern is the Australian Border Force that it is the subject of a gripping television series.

And Djokovic called the system out at a time when any scintilla of tolerance has been wrung out of it by the COVID pandemic.

This is so much more than a game.

It is not about the 34-year-old world number one desperately wanting to win a 21st grand slam. It concerns the palpably least adored tennis number one wanting to cement his role as the poster boy for the anti vax brigade.

He has been working on this since the start of the COVID pandemic.

Djokovic organized the five-nation Adria tennis tour at the height of the lockdown in mid 2020.

That ended with star players, including Djokovic himself contracting the virus.

The tour had to be called off after the first fixture in Serbia.

There are pictures of players involved in the event dancing onstage, shirtless and unmasked, at a Belgrade nightclub.

That country’s favourite son admitted he had called it wrong.

He said” “I am deeply sorry our tournament has caused harm. It was too soon.”

Evidently no lesson was learned, though.

At the end of last year, Djokovic caught COVID again.

A day after testing positive he attended a ceremony honoring him with his own Serbian postage stamp and, unmasked, mingling with young admirers.

The following day, knowing full well that he had tested positive, he went to accept an award from the French sporting newspaper L’Equipe.

Djokovic took advantage of the inexplicably naïvite of Tennis Australia flying in the face of Australian public opinion by saying he would be admitted unvaccinated.

Obviously the immigration authorities nixed this at the border and sent him to await deportation.

His legal challenge was successful because Judge Anthony Kelly found the rushed process unfair.

Judge Kelly was unaware, however,  that Djokovic had provided incorrect information to immigration officials in Melbourne.

He asserted he had not travelled abroad since testing positive last December 16.

He now admits that he visited Spain and he blames his agent for giving the Melbourne official duff gen.

Hawke took his time pouring over the fresh information.

He needed to do this in case Djokovic appeals his decision.

While giving Djokovic a final opportunity to vaccinate, Hawke also ensured that any appeal would have to wait until next week when the Australian Open is already underway.

Serbian authorities might well have something more to say about the treatment of their favorite son.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabić has stated that by avoiding isolation while COVID positive, Djokovic has committed an offense.

I hope for her sake she does not try that most asinine assertion that politics should not interfere in sport.

We South African learned to our benefit during the struggle against apartheid that sport is the very essence of politics

Spanish authorities might want to pursue an obviously illegal visit from the COVID-positive tennis ace.

Australian premier Scott Morrison said today his compatriots “ have made many sacrifices during the pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected.”

That is probably the most telling antipodean view of this self-confessed messy business.

Public opinion surveys show more than 80% of Australians want Djokovic to be denied entry.

The survival instincts of a politician facing an election within four months forces him to take careful heed of this.


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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.