World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has found himself in controversy once again, but without any fault of his own.
Djokovic recently made an innocent remark about vaccinations, but that has been twisted beyond recognition by some members of the media to imply the exact opposite of what he meant. And predictably, several fans on social media have jumped at the Serb's throat, even branding him an 'anti-vaxxer', without verifying whether the comment in question was actually uttered by him.
During his pre-tournament press conference at the ongoing Serbia Open, Novak Djokovic was asked for his views about the new COVID-19 vaccine and the associated protocols implemented by the ATP. And the 33-year-old gave a fairly standard response, talking about the issue from all possible aspects.
However, that wasn't what was reported by everyone. Here's a headline used by a well-known publication, completely misrepresenting what Djokovic said:
"Unnecessary and illogical move" - Novak Djokovic on Tennis tour's vaccine protocol
A 'quote' attributed to Djokovic in the article reads as follows:
"I can’t say anything until an ATP rule is passed. For us, the ATP is the main one, until the Board of Directors makes a decision, that is speculation… I will add that I do not see the logic that the ATP sets a protocol like this, that we have to be in a safe environment, because it is not a ‘bubble’. The rules and conditions of local governments are important, you follow the situation in that country and that’s it."
A few tweets were also seen misquoting Novak Djokovic, some of which have now been taken down. An example can be found below:
The implication is clear: that Novak Djokovic is spreading anti-vaxxer views, and that he has a problem if vaccinated players get any leeway when it comes to restrictions at tennis tournaments.
But in reality, this is the actual quote that Novak Djokovic gave on the issue, as per the transcript released by the Serbia Open:
"I have heard some things being discussed on the subject, such as that vaccinated players will be enabled to have better and easier living and accommodation conditions and that they will not have to be in a bubble created for all players," Djokovic said. "We'll see, nothing has been decided yet, there is a lot of speculation. There are ambiguities, there are different campaigns on several sides. I can't say anything until the ATP decides on something, at least when it comes to our sport."
"Until then, we must accept the conditions as they are," he added. "I don't understand why people don't follow the rules, restrictions and conditions of local governments, in locations where tournaments are being held. Just follow the situation in the country where a tournament takes place. There are many unknowns, ambiguities and illogical things."
As can be seen above, when he used the word 'illogical', Novak Djokovic was clearly referring to the refusal of people to follow country-specific pandemic protocols. Djokovic didn't in any way brand the ATP protocols as 'unnecessary' or 'illogical', and certainly didn't suggest that he was opposed to vaccinated players getting preferential treatment.
Is Novak Djokovic treated wrongly by the media?
Novak Djokovic has admittedly expressed a few questionable opinions in the past. But that isn't reason enough for everything he says, even innocent and scientifically sound comments, to be twisted and misrepresented just to further a specific narrative.
While the criticism against Djokovic might have been justified in a few cases, at the moment it seems like a lot of people are just waiting to project him as a villain. In this particular case the Serb has been labeled a disruptor, when in fact he was merely requesting players to adhere to the conditions laid down by the national governments.
Incidents like these make you wonder whether there is some merit to Srdjan Djokovic's comments suggesting that the Western media deliberately tries to paint his son in negative light.