Very rarely did we witness Novak Djokovich slip into an unforced error en route to his 79 titles, including 17 Grand Slam trophies. But the world’s number one tennis player committed perhaps the biggest mistake in his life by organizing an exhibition tournament amid the COVID-19 pandemic, without heeding health protocols.
The Adria Tour exhibition, held in Djokovich’s home country Serbia and in Croatia, was for charity and full of fun, thanks to the presence of some of the world’s elite. Both players and the crowd were happy as the professional tennis season was on a forced break as a result of the pandemic, which has now infected more than 9 million people globally.
Physical distancing was seemingly absent, with the crowd, many not wearing face masks, sitting close to one another and the players hugging and shaking hands with each other.
Therefore, that Djokovich, his wife Jelena and three of the players -- Viktor Troicki, Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric – tested positive for the virus should come as no surprise. What has shocked the world is the lack of awareness, if not denial, of the virus that prevailed throughout the exhibition.
Such carelessness was also evident in the Serbian soccer league, resulting in five footballers of the newly crowned champion Red Star Belgrade testing positive for COVID-19. The Serbian soccer body allowed crowds into the stadiums, despite criticism.
Djokovich has apologized for the mess, which should remind the sports world to exercise extra prudence about restarting competitions. Even when a vaccine is ready, safety first will remain the best policy.
Europe’s top soccer leagues have finally resumed after protracted debates among stakeholders, particularly in countries hit hard by the pandemic. The English Premiership, the Bundesliga in Germany, La Liga in Spain and Serie A in Italy are back in business, with champions already decided in the first two top-flight tournaments.
The rules of the game, however, are strict. Not only do the players have to undergo tests to prove they are virus-free, they also have to play without the presence of their fans. Neither hand-shakes nor hugging are allowed, and any violation of the protocol carries a hefty fine.
The restrictions are the “new normal”, but resuming competitions while the pandemic remains unbeaten still poses a risk. The sportsmen and women may live a heathy life, ranging from a good nutritional intake to seven hours of sleep, to strengthen their immunity, but they are exposed to the virus as soon as they leave their homes, either for training or matches.
It is too early to expect sports competitions to resume anytime soon in Indonesia, despite the relaxation intended to allow the economy to claw its way back. With the number of single-day cases on the rise, many fear the worst has yet to come in the country.
Like many sports federations that have opted to remain cautious, Indonesian sports bodies should refrain from hastily resuming competitions for the sake of athletes and the public at large. Indonesia should never repeat the unforced error a star like Djokovich made.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.