Novak Djokovic: I have a duty to speak up for my fellow players

Djokovic insists he was not being “selfish, difficult and ungrateful” in speaking out about quarantine conditions for players ahead of the Australian Open
Novak Djokovic: I have a duty to speak up for my fellow players

Novak Djokovic is the world number one (John Walton/PA).

World number one Novak Djokovic insists he was not being “selfish, difficult and ungrateful” in speaking out about quarantine conditions for players ahead of the Australian Open.

Ten people who have flown to Melbourne for the first grand slam of the year have tested positive for coronavirus, resulting in 72 players being confined to their rooms.

Djokovic is part of a group of top players enjoying better conditions while quarantining in Adelaide, but the 33-year-old said he had felt obliged to use his “hard-earned” privileges to make suggestions to tournament director Craig Tiley on how to improve conditions for players in Melbourne.

In a long social media post, Djokovic wrote: “My good intentions for my fellow competitors in Melbourne have been misconstrued as being selfish, difficult and ungrateful. This couldn’t be farther from the truth

“I genuinely care about my fellow players and I also understand very well how the world is run and who gets bigger and better and why.

“I’ve earned my privileges the hard way and for that reason it is very difficult for me to be a mere onlooker knowing how much every help, gesture and good word mattered to me when I was small and insignificant in the world pecking order.

“Hence I use my position of privilege to be of service as much as I can where and when needed.”

Regarding his suggestions to Tiley, Djokovic added: “In our email exchange I used an opportunity to brainstorm about potential improvements that could be made to the quarantine of players in Melbourne that were in full lockdown.

“There were a few suggestions and ideas that I gathered from other players from our chat group and there was no harm intended to try and help.

“I was aware that the chances were low that any of our suggestions would be accepted, just like my request to quarantine with my team in Melbourne instead of Adelaide was denied prior to our travel because of the strict government regulations.

“I understand that organising international sporting events during a pandemic poses health risks to the local community and to the players themselves.

Novak Djokovic sports a face mask following victory over Diego Schwartzman at the ATP Finals in London in 2020 (John Walton/PA)

“Therefore, I would like to express my full gratitude to Tennis Australia, the Australian Government and local citizens for being willing to take this risk with us for the love of the game and the multiple opportunities it brings to the economy of the country and its people.

“We are honoured and we will all do our best to follow the guidelines and protocols put in place. We do hope that we will be able to nurture our bodies and be ready for the mental and physical endurance and strength tests that are ahead of us once the competition starts.

“Things in the media escalated and there was a general impression that the players (including myself) are ungrateful, weak and selfish because of their unpleasant feelings in quarantine. I am very sorry that it has come that because I do know how grateful many are.

“We all came to Australia to compete. Not being able to train and prepare before the tournament starts is really not easy. None of us ever questioned 14 days of quarantine despite what is being said by media outlets.”

Lisa Neville, police minister for the state of Victoria, reported three new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, adding one of them was a player who has been in “hard lockdown” since arrival into Australia as he came in on a flight where positive cases had been recorded.

The second case related to another player and the third is a support person with the player, she added.

She said: “In the meantime, the player, the support person and their bubble – so the other support person and player they’re with – will not be training until we have a final confirmation either that they are shedding or that they are positive.

“If they are positive, those two (the player and support person) will go into the health hotel and their bubble will be considered close contacts and will be in lockdown for the 14 days.”

Tennis Australia chief executive Tiley said the safety of the Victorian community would not be compromised, but added the body was walking a “tightrope”.

He told ABC News Breakfast: “I do understand the players, this is a new experience for them and I don’t think anyone expected to know what the 14 days was like and they are adapting to it.

“At the beginning, it was pretty challenging with their adaptation, it’s got a lot better, I think the majority of the players understand and accept it and there is a minority struggling with it but we are going to do whatever we can to make it better for them.”

Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan has been one of the most outspoken complainants and she posted a picture of herself on Instagram holding up a sign reading: “We need fresh air to breathe.”

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