October 2, 2022



No-vaxx Djokovic: why his spiritual world view can have a dangerous side | Sport

3 min read

After a cool hour of discussion on Instagram live, as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic reminisced on their rapport of 22 years, the most revelatory moment came right at the end and in the form of a seemingly mundane question delivered by a fan: What are the first three things you do after you wake up?

Djokovic spoke slowly and deliberately in response: “Gratitude and prayer, a couple of long, deep breaths, hugging my wife and running to my children.” Murray nodded limply, he successfully kept a straight face and at some point he even awkwardly uttered: “Nice!” Then he gave his own answer: “For me, too much information, but I go for a pee.”

The nature of Djokovic’s job means that he speaks about himself after every single match, but normally he focuses his monologues on the tennis. It is easy to forget about how different his world view is to the rivals who surround him.

According to Djokovic, his career was defined by the day a doctor placed a slice of white bread on his stomach. A subsequent resistance exercise indicated he had a coeliac allergy, which led to him relinquishing gluten from his diet and conquering the world. He calls telekinesis and telepathy “gifts from this higher order, the source, the god, whatever, that allows us to understand the higher power and higher order in ourselves”. He once hired a coach, Pepe Imaz, who probably taught him about telepathy and levitation, and whose techniques include extremely long hugs.

Evidently, Djokovic’s outlook has worked for him. He is the world No 1 on a 21-match winning run who is in pursuit of Rafael Nadal (19) and Roger Federer (20) in terms of grand slam titles, with 17. He will probably get there. His spirituality should be personal as long as it is not harmful.

Novak Djokovic and his wife Jelena, who has posted a video on Instagram linking the coronavirus to 5G technology. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

However, on Sunday afternoon as he congregated on Zoom with fellow Serbian athletes for a public discussion about the fate of their sports, Djokovic’s comments reflected how thin the line is between finding solace in spirituality and potentially projecting dangerous narratives. “Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” he said. “But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.”

Enter Djokovic’s wife, Jelena, who at the beginning of April spread the viral video of medical professional Dr Thomas Cowan and his debunked theory linking 5G technology to the coronavirus outbreak. The video now carries a “false information” badge of shame on her Instagram. Instead of being one of the many to share a false video innocently, she doubled down.

Djokovic’s comments slip seamlessly into everything he has ever projected about his lifestyle and world view, but they also align with the dangerous way that anti-vaxxers discuss these issues and his wishes are dangerous. Videos such as Cowan’s have led to the vandalisation of numerous 5G masts.

The coronavirus outbreak has underlined how personal decisions universally have the potential to affect many different people. Djokovic is no Keri Hilson – a minor celebrity who helped to spread 5G conspiracy theories – he is one of the most famous people in Serbia and opposing vaccinations carries an even greater danger.

While they have also thrown his future into question, this stance seems reminiscent of his ideological opposition to surgery, which led to his split with Andre Agassi in 2017 after he resisted medical intervention and thought his elbow would heal with alternative, holistic treatments. Djokovic finally underwent surgery in 2018 and when he awoke, he cried for three days. “Every time I thought about what I did, I felt like I had failed myself,” he told the Telegraph.

Clearly, he had not. “Official” medicine was the reason his pain abated. Five months later he lifted the Wimbledon title and by November he was back at No 1. Eventually, reality bites us all.

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