It remains unclear whether Djokovic will defend his title in next week’s Australian Open. But the world has learned a lot more about Australia’s border controls, much of which it will take a long time to forget.
Perhaps most absurd of all has been the utter confusion in Australian governance. Was there a visa exemption granted? Did the unvaccinated Djokovic qualify for an exemption? Who had the authority to decide? The answers to these questions should, of course, be straightforward. But they have not been clear to anyone, even the Australian Prime Minister.
This echoes the broader experience of the pandemic. Australia has resembled less of a nation-state, with a clear-sighted leader at its helm, as it has a collection of states led by warring premiers from different parties and different factions over these past three years. Whether it is between federal and state governments, or between the various state governments, health advice and policy have at times varied wildly.
Later in the year, no one was even allowed out of the country without express permission, which was far more often denied than granted. Many Australians felt they had little hope of navigating these restrictions, short of having the luxury of special exemptions or an army of lawyers at their disposal.
Such attitudes or mindsets have not just emerged from the pandemic. They have deeper cultural and historical roots. For a couple of decades, the rise of affordable international aviation connected Australia to the rest of the world. Covid-19, though, has returned the nation to an older national psyche.
As to what happens next, the Australian government has put itself in an invidious position. If it allows Djokovic to remain, there’s every likelihood Djokovic will go on to win the Australian Open and claim the mantle as the greatest tennis player of all time.
Deporting him would outrage opinion across the world. Either way, Australia comes out of this much diminished. Whatever it does, in this battle of “Fortress Australia,” the score remains the same: Advantage Djokovic.