By: Scott RossPublished: January 19, 2022

Djokovic Gets a French Goodbye

The powers that be have doubled down in their determination to make Novak Djokovic a martyr of the anti-vaxx movement, as it’s been made clear to the tennis legend he’s not going to be allowed to play in the French Open if he insists on not getting vaccinated.

France’s sports minister, Roxana Maracineanu, in an January 7 interview with the radio station franceinfo expressed support for letting Djokovic play in the French Open this May, saying that "An athlete who is unvaccinated can compete in an event because the protocol, the health bubble for these major events, permits that.”

A little more than a week later, however, Maracineanu had to reverse course after newly passed legislation had tightened restrictions across France.

“The vaccination pass has been adopted. As soon as the law is promulgated, it will become mandatory to enter public buildings already subject to the health pass (stadium, theatre or lounge) for all spectators, practitioners, French or foreign professionals,” she tweeted on January 16.

This refusal to accommodate Djokovic is shortsighted, as he’s a member of an ever-shrinking minority, the anti-vaxxers, who present a problem that is steadily solving itself, either by relenting, becoming infected or dying. If one were to draw a Venn diagram of anti-vaxxers and world-class tennis players, you would have a circle with a small dot on its edge—Djokovic being the only point of intersection. How hard would it be to create a bubble around the man, one paid for entirely by the man himself and that would render him completely harmless to anyone, save his opponents on the court? Not very.

Instead, he’s being made a martyr, someone fellow anti-vaxxers can point to as a person being persecuted for standing up for what they believe in. Obviously, what they believe in is largely wrong: No one’s being magnetized; no one’s being chipped; the vaccines aren’t more likely than COVID itself to cause heart inflammation. More than 4.5 billion people have received at least one dose of the vaccines—if there were a serious problem with them, we’d know by now. Unless you’ve got a religious exemption or a medical condition that makes vaccination too risky, there’s no amount of math that can support the notion that you’re better off not getting vaccinated. At a certain point, the refusal is little more than petulance.

Yes, the French have a right to control who crosses their borders, to bar Djokovic from entering the country, but realistically, doing so in no way improves the health and safety of French citizens. When governments do things in the name of health and safety that don’t actually promote health and safety, it’s easy for the conspiracy minded to then assume that their true motivation is simply asserting power.

This is not to suggest that COVID has been a grand conspiracy to overturn the world order and yadda, yadda, yadda, or that people like Dr. Anthony Fauci don’t actually have the best interest of others at heart. But when your measures don’t align with your messaging, trust starts to fade, and people begin wonder what other restrictions are being enforced that don’t actually benefit anyone.

Don’t worry that letting Djokovic pay for his own little COVID bubble will embolden his fellow travelers, because, really, who among them can afford to pay for their own COVID bubbles while still going to work and providing for themselves and their families? If anything, accommodating Djokovic would take the wind out of the sails of the more conspiracy minded anti-vaxxers, who would then only be able to remain in their febrile state of lunacy by declaring that the accommodation was a rope-a-dope, an effort to lull the anti-vaxxers into a false sense of ease. Th people who go down that path? They’re lost; you’re not gonna reach them. But if you keep Djokovic from competing, you’re just proving the nutters right. They will look at the timing of the new French laws and Maracineanu's 180, with the explicit mention of "stadium," and shout "See?!?!"

COVID bubbles for people like Aaron Rodgers or Kyrie Irving are obviously a stickier wicket, as football and basketball both involve a great deal of physical contact with teammates and opponents, and, in the case of basketball, occasionally with fans. But we’ve yet to hear of any player refusing to play alongside or against either Rodgers or Irving, and attendance at Nets road games has been just fine—no one seems to care, and not caring is one of the cornerstones on which the transition from pandemic to endemic is built.

“That’s one of the ways that epidemics end, we don’t think about them anymore,” Dora Vargha, a history and medical humanities professor at the University of Exeter, explained recently to the Washington Post. This not to suggest that COVID has been brought to heel all around the world, there are still billions more vaccinations to be administered and millions more people to be nursed back to health, and we need to improve our infrastructure for dealing with seasonal waves or the rise of new variants. There’s a lot of work yet to be done, but barring Novak Djokovic from playing in the French Open would in no way stand in the way of it.

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