The tennis world number one and defending Australian Open champion could still be deported from the country just days out from the start of the Melbourne grand slam next Monday.
As Melbourne recovers from the world’s longest lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, an organisation representing business, academic and community sectors fears the city could lose its reputation as Australia’s events and sporting capital.
Committee for Melbourne chief executive Martine Letts said the ongoing Djokovic controversy over his vaccine exemption has ‘shown a vindictive and intolerant face of Australia’.
Committee for Melbourne chief executive Martine Letts (centre) fears Melbourne’s reputation as Australia’s events and sporting capital has been damaged
She said the saga reflected poorly on everyone involved and demonstrated the need for better partnerships between the private sector and governments in response to the latest Covid-19 Omicron challenge.
‘No matter who is right or wrong, [the affair] has shown a vindictive and intolerant face of Australia which we can ill afford as we seek to open up again to the world,’ Ms Letts told The Age.
‘As Australia’s global events and sporting capital, we really want to be seen as competent and welcoming as we emerge from being one of the world’s most locked-down jurisdictions in 2020 and 2021.’
She said Melbourne’s reputation has been tarnished by what she described as a ‘blame game’ between different levels of government during the Djokovic saga.
Melbourne’s five million residents have spent 262 days in lockdown since early 2020, the longest stint than any other city in the world.
As hype about the Australia Open builds, the city is preparing to host more major events in the coming months, including the Australian Grand Prix and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Martine Letts fears the ongoing saga surrounding Novak Djokovic (pictured on Friday) has reflected poorly on all those involved
Melbourne is proud of its reputation of hosting major events (pictured cricket fans at the Boxing Day Ashes Test at the MCG
‘We cannot let the Australian Open debacle set the tone for the rest of this and future years and leave the door wide open for others to step in and take our [events] crown, which they will take every opportunity to do,’ Ms Letts warned.
The Djokovic saga has divided the world with many tennis fans and current US player Tennys Sandgren calling Australia to lose its grand slam status.
The saga has now entered its second week with immigration minister Alex Hawke still deliberating whether to use his personal powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa.
Former cricketer Shane Warne is the latest sports legend to weigh into the debate.
‘Novak is a great tennis player & one of the all time greats. No doubt,’ he tweeted on Friday.
‘But he’s lied on entry forms, been out in public when he knew he had Covid & is now facing legal cases. He’s entitled to not be jabbed but Oz is entitled to throw him out! Agree?’
Renowned for hosting international events, Melbourne has spent 262 days of the last two years in lockdown (pictured, a deserted CBD during the city’s sixth lockdown)