The paws of crisis management PR experts were all over the statement released by Novak Djokovic on Wednesday.
As the world No 1 awaited his fate at the hands of Australia’s immigration minister, he offered his first stab at answering a few of the many questions surrounding his conduct.
While Djokovic’s lawyers submitted private evidence to the authorities to explain his erroneous travel declaration, the player publicly pleaded his case in a carefully curated statement.
The paws of crisis management had been all over the statement released by Novak Djokovic
The weasely term ‘error of judgment’ was employed, by whoever wrote it, and three times there was reference to correcting ‘misinformation’, although little was offered to contradict what has already been reported about Djokovic’s movements.
Whatever the outcome of the delayed decision on whether the 34-year-old can stay on to defend his Australian Open title, expect plenty of reputation management from him going forward. He has much rebuilding to do, because so much of what we have heard has stretched credibility above and beyond its limits.
On Wednesday, for example, we were asked to believe Djokovic’s version of what happened around the positive PCR test that he previously said was taken on December 16, with the result registered at 8pm that evening.
The term ‘error of judgment’ was used and three times there was reference to ‘misinformation’
He maintains that he did not find out he had caught Covid until after fulfilling a children’s charity commitment the following day.
Aside from considerations about those he would be mixing with, it seems distinctly odd that someone so obsessive about their health would employ such a relaxed attitude about the result.
Especially as Djokovic had been at a basketball match two days earlier at which others had tested positive. Surprising, too, that someone of his importance was not notified sooner.
Then came the ‘error of judgment’ on December 18, when Djokovic attended a photoshoot and interview with visiting representatives of the L’Equipe sports publication which had given him an award.
Djokovic’s family held a press conference in Belgrade when he was held in a detention centre
The tennis star is seen mingling just one day after he allegedly received a positive Covid test
The journalist concerned, Franck Ramella, said he had no idea about the positive test until this month. He added that Djokovic had done the photos without a mask, but refused to take it off for extra pictures during the interview.
Djokovic explained that he had, wrongly in hindsight, gone along knowing his diagnosis because he did not want to let the reporter down.
But this cut little ice with the International Tennis Writers Association (ITWA), who issued an unusual statement of their own condemning his behaviour. Djokovic’s failure to reveal his positive status was described as ‘deeply concerning’.
ITWA, whose members are responsible for chronicling Djokovic’s career, went on: ‘As journalists we take great care to adhere to all Covid rules in place and would expect all players to do the same. Furthermore it should be noted that journalists have to be fully vaccinated for this year’s Australian Open.’
The same day as the test, Djokovic is pictured attending a ceremony in his honour in Belgrade
Djokovic was found to have falsified answers on his immigration form to try to beat measures
Djokovic might be more concerned about how this episode has affected his standing in another tennis organisation, the Professional Tennis Players Association.
This is the player union that the Serb has helped create and devoted many of his spare hours to. Yet his leadership credentials have been badly damaged here.
One reason is that many players have been hostile or indifferent to the idea of getting vaccinated, but still gone along with it to help keep the tours going and comply with rules. As a few have alluded to – and more have said privately – they do not appreciate the idea of Djokovic failing to go along with everyone else.
These are a couple of examples which explain how this is only the beginning for Djokovic, not the end, even if he were granted the right to compete at Melbourne Park next week.
His treatment led to protests and some supporters waiting outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne
Unless he gets vaccinated, these rigmaroles with all their accompanying controversies can be expected to continue from tournament to tournament.
Wimbledon’s organisers, for example, are keeping a close eye and reserving their position with the tournament still five months away. Their official position is to go along with government advice at the time — maybe the world will have changed by then.
For now the Australian Open and Djokovic have done all they can to ensure his presence there, but even if it is successful there has already been a price to pay.