Tennis star Novak Djokovic has been branded “selfish, difficult and ungrateful” after making a list of requests to soften restrictions on players in hard lockdown ahead of the Australian Open.
The men’s world number one reportedly sent a letter to Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley asking for a reduction in the time players spend in isolation, permission to see coaches and for athletes to be moved out of hotels to private houses.
His suggestions were firmly rebuffed by Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews, who said: “People are free to provide lists of demands, but the answer is no… There’s no special treatment here.”
A total of 72 players are in quarantine after 10 people who flew to Melbourne for the first Grand Slam of the year tested positive for coronavirus – leaving many forced to train in their hotel rooms.
Djokovic has since defended his action a lengthy social media post: “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.”
He said his email exchange regarding suggestions for the quarantine conditions was an “opportunity to brainstorm” and he was “aware that the chances were low that any of our suggestions would be accepted”.
“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,” he said.
While many players are under the strictest quarantine conditions and unable to leave their rooms, others who were not on the affected flights – including Djokovic – are able to train outside for five hours a day under COVID-secure protocols.
The star player said he wanted to use his “position of privilege” to help others.
“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,” he said.
He added: “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.”
Going ahead with the tournament amid the global pandemic and harsh restrictions in Melbourne has caused some controversy, particularly as many Australians remain stuck overseas.
Djokovic’s explanation hasn’t been well received by the Australian public, particularly Victorians, who educated him on Melbourne’s brutal five-month stage 4 lockdown last year.
‘I’ve lost my career. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives. Economies and industries have collapsed. The world is in turmoil. You have millions, you have your health. Shut up and eat the food for 14 days or take a year off you ungrateful c**t. Nobody cares,’ wrote Victorian comedian Marcus Ryan.
‘You have proved that you are over-privileged, arrogant and ignorant of the suffering of others,’ another Aussie commented.
‘I highly respect what you have written. But you also need to understand what we have been through here. Especially in Melbourne. We had the toughest lock down laws implemented around the world,’ wrote a third.
‘We just can’t be bothered to find the compassion for athletes who have come here bringing Covid with them. Then constantly complaining about the conditions.
‘We are angry because we are nervous. If we get another break out people will revolt.’
Three new coronavirus cases related to the tournament were reported on Wednesday, including a player who has been in hard lockdown since they arrived.
The second case related to another player and the third is a support person with the player.