Novak Djokovic’s bid for his sixth Indian Wells title ended Sunday night, not with a netted backhand or unreturnable ball but with a 13-word Facebook post from the BNP Paribas Open itself: “World No.1 Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the 2023 BNP Paribas Open.”
That’s it. That was the whole statement. There was no link to a further explanation, and on the tournament’s website, nary an article was to be found even acknowledging the living legend’s withdrawal.
Why? Because there’s nothing more to say. Everyone knows the story; we just lived it six months ago. Arguably the most consistent player of the past decade, Djokovic was barred from the game because the United States still won’t grant unvaccinated foreign nationals entry, and the Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t accept his request for an exemption.
Tournament officials needn’t offer further context, because there’s no case to plead or PR backlash to contain. And the post’s comments section reflected that, with the overwhelming majority of people chiming in with disdain for the U.S. policy, and its complete lack of sense.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia poses with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after winning the 2023 Australian Open, on January 30, 2023. Last year, Srdjan Djokovic was a leading figure in defending his son after he was detained and later deported from Australia ahead of the 2022 tournament, over his COVID-19 vaccine status. Getty Images
While even the world’s most COVID-strict countries like Canada and Australia have long since left similar protocols in the past, the United States still has zero tolerance whatsoever for unvaccinated non-Americans.
It goes far beyond tennis. Just yesterday, Matthew Futterman of The New York Times went into detail on just how many people were pushing for Djokovic’s exemption. Most notably, those included tennis world heavyweights like Billie Jean King and Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon, who Futterman notes was a major fundraiser for both President Biden, and President Obama and has personal relationships with the top brass in the current administration.
Also fighting for Djokovic were Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, whose voters also had an interest at play. The failure to gain entry for Djokovic means he won’t be able to compete in the Miami Open this month either, where he’s a six-time champion.
Perhaps it’s understandable the Biden Administration doesn’t want to provide a special exemption for Djokovic because of his celebrity status, but with the amount of pushback, it should be asked: Why does the policy still even exist? And who benefits as a result?
It may be easier to start with who’s worse off. In this case, it’s sports fans, tournament directors, and even fellow players, plus the local economies in California and Florida. Blocks from the Tennis Garden itself are several mom-and-pop restaurants and local schools selling things like event parking as fundraisers.
And it affects the American economy at large. Geoff Freeman, CEO of the non-profit U.S. Travel Association, has estimated the “outdated” vaccine policy costs the U.S. “an $80 billion loss in foreign traveler spending.”
It’s a total head-scratcher as to why no one in a position to do so has made any real push to rid the United States of its puzzling vaccine mandates for foreigners. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that they benefit no one and must go.
For every Djokovic out there, there are millions more who deserve entry to the United States. Hopefully it won’t take another tennis tournament and millions of dollars of lost revenue to get there.
Andy Gorel is a photographer, journalist, and recording artist by the name of LA Parties. He is a graduate of Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, and a self-proclaimed burrito connoisseur. You can find him on Instagram and lapartiesworld.com.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.