25 January 2022 16:27:58 IST

A management and technology professional with 17 years of experience at Big-4 business consulting firms, and seven years of experience in high-technology manufacturing, Rajkamal Rao is a results-driven strategy expert. A US citizen with OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) privileges that allow him to live and work in India, he divides his time between the two countries. Rao heads Rao Advisors, a firm that counsels students aspiring to study in the United States on ways to maximise their return on investment. He lives with his wife and son in Texas. Rao has been a columnist for from the year the website was launched, in 2015, and writes regularly for BusinessLine as well. Twitter: @rajkamalrao

Australia smashes down Djokovic’s pleas

Source: Reuters

A day after Novak Djokovic was unceremoniously deported from Australia, The New York Times published a Page One story by their star healthcare reporter Apoorva Mandavilli: The C.D.C.’s New Challenge? Grappling With Imperfect Science. The story acknowledged that the science behind coronavirus is imperfect and still evolving. It pointed out that even the C.D.C. admits that it has sometimes skipped much of the traditional scientific review process in providing its recommendations.

Some C.D.C. officials also charge that the Biden White House exerts a heavy political influence on the agency. An extreme example of how politics plays a role in Covid governance reverberated worldwide for nearly two breathtaking weeks from Melbourne as the Australian Open got ready to kick off the first of the year’s Grand Slams.

It started with Novak Djokovic, the world’s number one tennis player and Serbian superstar, posting an image of himself on Instagram at an airport, ready to leave for Melbourne. 

Djokovic has already won the A.O. a record nine times and was going for his tenth. If he succeeded on Melbourne’s blue courts, he would have lifted his 21st Major trophy, eclipsing the 20-trophy world record he shares with Roger Federer of Switzerland and Rafael Nadal of Spain. Instead, Djokovic fell to political posturing on a different court — the kind that is supposed to deliver justice under the arm of the law.

A renowned vaccine skeptic, Djokovic has refused to get a jab for the novel coronavirus. Most anti-vaxxers believe that the government should have no say in decisions about their own bodies as a matter of privacy. This week’s Times’ story underscores the reasons for their skepticism: How can we trust that the vaccines are safe if the science is imperfect and the C.D.C. cuts corners from the traditional scientific review processes before providing its recommendations? Government approvals of such vaccines generally take five years or more, so how do we know that Covid vaccines, approved on an emergency basis with a minimum number of trials, do not have adverse side effects? 

Playing by the rules

For the millions who complained that Djokovic ought to have been playing by the rules, the irony was that he  actually played by the rules. While the Australian Open required proof of vaccinations for all players, it also had announced a medical exemption option. Players could submit their application to an independent medical panel of experts, commissioned by the tournament organisers and the state of Victoria in which Melbourne lies, and upon approval, would be cleared to play in the tournament.

Djokovic obtained such a clearance and arrived on an Emirates flight from Dubai. His Instagram post had now been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, and Australian politicians, while Djokovic was in mid-flight, saw that trouble was about to land on their shores. Both Australia and New Zealand have gone to extraordinary lengths to shut Covid out, so, politically, it wouldn’t be wise to admit a known anti-vaxxer into the country. 

At the immigration counter, Djokovic was asked to submit himself to additional questioning by an immigration official, who, it turns out, is of Indian origin. The transcript shows that the official was initially respectful of Djokovic, but his tone tightened after a short break, presumably because he had spoken with his political bosses. The official ruled that Djokovic had used an incorrect immigration form that doesn’t allow Covid exemptions and promptly cancelled his visa. The world erupted — vaccine supporters expressing glee and anti-vaxxers horrified that a superstar had been mistreated.

Djokovic was taken to a hotel where other refugees were held. He rightly asserted his rights and filed an appeal with a federal court. The judge ruled in Djokovic’s favour saying, “That document was in the hands of the delegate [who cancelled his visa]. The point I’m somewhat agitated about is: what more could this man [Djokovic] have done?”

Freed from detention, Djokovic promptly returned to the Laver courts to practice — and, to rub salt into the politicians’ wounds, posted an update on Instagram, a fatal unforced error. The wise will always say that it is unwise to cross a government official. And true enough, four agonising days later, after the A.O. had completed its drawing ceremony placing Djokovic as the #1 seed, the Australian Home Minister used the discretionary powers vested in him to cancel Djokovic’s visa again.

Legal games

This time, the minister had more reasons to prevail. In his visa application, Djokovic had refused to divulge that he had visited another country (Serbia) before traveling to Australia. Technically, this was construed to be an error severe enough to be worthy of deportation.

Back in court again pleading their case in front of a different set of justices, the Australian government decided not to press with the technical error on the visa application. But government lawyers argued that allowing Djokovic to stay might inspire anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia. The judges ruled not on the case’s merits but whether the government had the power to deport him. The decision was 3-0 against Djokovic. The tennis superstar promptly headed to the airport and left the country.

Two years since Covid first arrived, our so-called leaders have bent and swayed as case counts rise and fall. No one appears to have a clue today as Omicron ravages worldwide. Afraid that their consistency would be challenged, these leaders threw an innocent athlete under the bus. The French government, vacillating until then, announced Monday a vaccine passport plan that treats the vaccinated cohort the same as those with prior infection as long as the latest infection was no more than six months earlier. Djokovic tested positive on December 16, technically qualifying him to play on the red clay at Roland Garros to defend his title. The French Open starts on May 22. Djokovic was given a hero’s welcome when he landed in Belgrade. For his own sanity, he is better off staying home for some more time yet.