Legendary US President Teddy Roosevelt wrote to his son in in 1803 in a letter “..I need not tell you that character counts for a great deal more than either intellect or body in winning success in life. Athletic proficiency is a mighty good servant, and like so many other good servants, a mighty bad master ..”.
The Novak Vaccine controversy that has been going on since the beginning of the year, brings to the mind the words mentioned above. The question is, to what distance do we need to go, what compromise do we need to make and what level of insanity one can tolerate for the sake of playing a few tennis tournaments and nothing more! There is a huge outburst of emotions as to why unvaccinated Novak is not being allowed to enter the United States, or for that matter few other countries like Canada. This has been the controversy since the beginning of the year and muddied much of tennis proceedings in 2022. The argument is – Novak is one of the greatest tennis players (arguably one of the best athletes) of all time, and the rules should be relaxed for him. For what?
Make no mistakes, Novak is one of my favorite tennis players. He may not have the artistry of the Roger or the unconventional top spin heavy killer forehands of Nadal, but he is probably more human than any other legends of the game and which was he is revered by many of the lesser mortals like us. His determination, self-belief, ability to stretch his limits and work ethics make us adore him. But then, a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people and impacted millions more globally, and a set of health measures, including vaccination requirements, that have been put in place cannot be trivialized. These rules can’t be broken just because someone wants to play tennis. There are countless former and current players who have irresponsibly spoken in favor of Novak and just today I came across a quote from McEnroe calling the decision to disallow Novak to play is “BS” and that “we have to find a way to get Novak into the US open”. You cannot be serious Johnny Mac!!
Novak has been a role model in more ways than one. He has given back so much to the community. His foundation helps the underprivileged children in Serbia, built schools, supported nutrition. He has generously donated in war, flood, earthquake relief funds. He has been a UNICEF National Ambassador. He stood for the rights of the ATP players and supported many young players over the years. Normally a person with high honor, he has always been the perfect family man. But his successes have often been marred by things which were well within his control. From organizing a tennis tournament at the peak of COVID 19 in Adria, to hitting a line judge and top it all being dispelled from the Australian open earlier in the year show how vulnerable he is. Especially his stand on COVID Vaccine, according to me, is unwise and reckless. He has discarded science; he has disobeyed something that has been ratified and approved by thousands of medical authorities in the world under the pretext of his own faith. It would be interesting to understand his opinion about the same science which had helped him so immensely when he was suffering through injuries and the same science that help him prepare for the game! What he forgot is that a person of his stature is not an isolated individual anymore, he is followed and emulated by millions of kids and young adults across the globe. His faith and his stand on vaccine may essentially direct this abundant following to the wrong path. His stand may be detrimental to the recovery effort that the authorities are making to curb COVID19, though in a small scale.
I don’t understand what damage a vaccine would have caused to Novak, something that has been accepted by billions of people around the world, including many eminent leaders, scientists, businessmen, performers and accomplished athletes (Including Rafa, his biggest nemesis, who already won 2 grand slams while vaccinated). One day the vaccination requirements may be lifted, Novak may end up winning 40 slams and become the greatest even tennis player unequivocally, but that does not justify relaxing the entry rules now just for the sake of one (or may be a few players) while the millions of ordinary people are subjected to a set to checks and controls and rightly so. By virtue of his success, he can’t expect to be above the rules. After all, as Teddy Roosevelt observed, success can be a bad master! Well, no sports can be bigger than life!!