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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Thursday June 25, 2020


Amidst a maelstrom of negative press concerning the Adria Tour, which led to the positive Covid-19 results of Novak Djokovic and three other top players, plus additional support staff and family members, some inside the sport are starting to come to the defense of the World No.1.

Tennis Express

Croatia’s Donna Vekic told Christopher Clarey of the New York Times that in Croatia and Serbia it isn’t just the tennis players who are taking risks with regard to the coronavirus.

“It’s a sh***y situation, but I feel really, really bad for Novak, because his idea was amazing,” Vekic said. “It’s tough to judge because the situation in Croatia and Serbia is like people are behaving without any restrictions, not just at the tennis. If you go out to the restaurants and the clubs you will see that they are packed person on person. I feel so bad for Novak, and honestly to bring so many top players to Croatia, I was like “Wow you are doing a really good job, and it was all for charity. So I feel really bad it ended like this. He only had good intentions.”


Criticism of the Adria Tour, a charitable event founded and supported by Djokovic to bring tennis to Serbia and other cities in the Balkans, has been intense. The World No.1 is the president of the ATP’s player council and has huge influence over the sport at a pivotal time, just as the coronavirus is threatening the financial foundation of the tours.

Those calling out the Serb for his role in the events which led to the cancellation of Sunday’s final in Zadar, Croatia and the subsequent shutdown of the rest of the tour, feel that by taking the pandemic lightly he has set the wrong example and set the sport back.

“Djokovic’s Folly Is a Lesson to the World,” read one CNN headline. “Djokovic Mauled Over Coronavirus Horror Show,” read another. They were two of what felt like a relentless stream on Tuesday after news broke that Djokovic had tested positive and would be self-isolating at home.

Djokovic’s coach and the tournament director of the Croatian leg of the Adria Tour, Goran Ivanisevic, says it is easy to beat up on Djokovic right now but the former Wimbledon champion quickly adds that the tournaments were played in line with government specifications.

"Everybody is smart now, and they are attacking Novak," he said. "We were locked down for three months. He organized this tour. The players came in Belgrade and we had good tennis and a good atmosphere. Everything in Serbia and everything in Croatia was done with the recommendations by the government."

Ivanisevic did, however, admit that Djokovic and friends may have taken things a bit too far with their over the top partying at a club in Belgrade two weekends ago.

"OK, maybe you didn’t need this,” he said. “But they are all individuals. Nobody forced anybody to come into that club. Nobody forced anybody to dance."

Ivanisevic is right, but what he fails to mention is that Djokovic and the others on the Adria Tour now have the potential to infect other people with the virus; people who would never choose to go to a nightclub and dance during a global pandemic. Anybody who came into contact with Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric or Viktor Troicki after they had been infected with the virus would be in danger. A stadium worker. A kid visiting the event, who then brings it to his grandparents. A bartender at the infamous nightclub, not eager to work but desperate for the money...

Sharing is not caring in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nevertheless, it’s true: Djokovic was not the only one behaving carelessly.

Serbia and Croatia have been relatively spared by the pandemic and this fact certainly had an impact on the Tour’s decision to play in front of packed stadiums. One can understand the allure, especially given that these competitors had been holed up in quarantine over the last three months.

And the government was complicit, as it also had been in Belgrade before the tournament when it allowed a major football game to take place with four times as many spectators in attendance.

But Djokovic has immense influence over fellow players, and for that reason, and his stature, he'll take the biggest hit for what went down.

"The players drove for Djokovic's sake. He kept calling [them] himself," Thiem's agent Herwig Straka said in an interview this week. "That was out of the control of a manager, it's about relationships and friendships among the players. If a Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal calls, you just come."

Thiem described it as a case of the players being thrilled to be taking a giant step towards normalcy, with government approval.

“We played without an audience for weeks, so we have been more than happy about the fans at the event,” Thiem said in an Instagram post. “We trusted the Serbian government’s corona rules, but we have been too optimistic. Our behavior was a mistake, we acted too euphorically. I am extremely sorry.”


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Dominic Thiem (@domithiem) on



France’s Richard Gasquet also points out that the government played a role and that all players and fans that attended the events did so voluntarily.

“Djokovic is not the culprit,” he told L’equipe. “It was not he who put a gun on the guys’ temples to demand that there be 5,000 spectators. It was the government that chose to accommodate these 5,000 people in one place.”

Whether it was an aura of invincibility, a lack of understanding of the threats posed by the virus, or the fact that it was just too hard to resist the opportunity to bring world class tennis to his home soil, one cannot dispute the fact that a leader in the sport should—and could—have exercised more caution.

What seems to be lost to so many is that by exercising one’s own right to ignore the their own safety and health, lives of others are put in jeopardy as a result. As this disconnect grows, now is the time for influential leaders like Djokovic to step up and lead by example.

But it must be said: the Adria Tour is just one of myriad instances where athletes are moving too far, too soon (and perhaps too selfishly). In the last week the Philadelphia Phillies, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the PGA Tour have all taken huge hits in the United States—further proof that relaxing restrictions will have repercussions that could lead to the loss of lives.

Djokovic himself has admitted that he took things “too far too soon,” after he tested positive and sent shockwaves through the tennis world.

“We were wrong and it was too far too soon,” he said on social media. “I can’t express how sorry I am for this and every case of infection




 

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