How the tennis star’s visa saga divided Australia and Serbia
“It’s a political game. Unfortunately, the Australian Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration are no different from the ministers in the Balkans, they are the same kind of people, people who harass everything, including the law.
“I really thought ‘balkanization’ was a term for the Balkan people – balkanization means to quarrel over everything and include the small details – but now I realize it’s global political culture.
“[Prime Minister] Scott [Morrison] and the others – these are really good examples of the balkanization of politics.
In Janjic’s eyes, the Djokovic saga is the result of a society as divided as those in the Balkans. And the similarities don’t end there. He identifies a “chauvinistic” culture in Australia and in the Djokovic family.
The 84-year-old has known Djokovic’s father Srdjan for 20 years – against whom he has hit numerous tennis balls – and Novak since 2012.
He says there are two Novaks: one, a globalist, humanitarian and philanthropist who speaks five languages; and the other, the product of his family, especially his father.
“He presented himself as a nationalistic-leaning guy who was also against virus rules,” says Janjic.
“He’s basically not educated, trained to believe in science, it’s more to believe in some sort of fate.”
It wasn’t just an image. Indeed, Djokovic showed a disregard for COVID rules when he admitted to mixing with the public despite knowing he tested positive for the virus.
In their reasoning for expulsion, the Federal Court justices said it was this behavior that gave “the inference that this, if imitated, can encourage an attitude of non-compliance with public health rules”.
Janjic points to Djokovic’s upbringing as an explanatory factor.
“He wasn’t so fully educated, he was completely focused on tennis…he’s basically not educated, trained to believe in science, it’s more to believe in some kind of fate,” he says.
The family is Serbian Orthodox and while it is common in Serbia for eldest sons to be revered, the Djokovics deified their son.
“Novak is like Christ,” says Janjic. “It’s a really confused identity in the family.”
The Djokovics sacrificed their lives and finances to support their son’s quest for sporting genius, but Janjic says Srdjan was also a bad influence on his son, describing his comments after Djokovic was detained in Melbourne last week as “stupid statements”.
“Jesus was crucified on the cross, and everything was done to him, but he is still alive among us. Now Novak is crucified, they are doing everything to him,” Srdjan told reporters after his son was sent to a hotel that the Australian government normally reserves for asylum seekers.
“The father is chauvinistic, this family is very much in the spirit of the father, traditional and patriarchal,” says Janjic.
The family usually hold court at their restaurant Novak in Belgrade, which serves as a sanctuary for devotees to worship the 34-year-old tennis star. On-court photos of Djokovic line the walls and his trophies are kept in display cases.
As they thought their son would be victorious in court, they promised to hold a press conference but called it off after Djokovic’s loss and ejection. The tennis star has also sworn silence until after the Australian Open.
He was thought to be locked up in his penthouse a few blocks away in new Belgrade, near where he grew up.
What Djokovic envisions as his next moves is key for his future.
“I love him so much, and that’s what you can see in my works dedicated to him,” says Andrej Josifovski, a street artist whose giant portraits of his hero have been promoted by Djokovic on his official website.
“He is proud of all of us who speak Serbian and who feel Serbian, and not just Serbians, I can say Yugoslavs.
“He fights for the freedom of every human being today. He is our best ambassador and we are all by his side.
While the nationalist message of the freedom crusade is heard in Serbia, outside the country Djokovic is now branded as an anti-vaxxer after the saga in Australia.
And that has financial implications.
“As soon as possible, we will contact Novak Djokovic to provide an update on the events that have accompanied his presence in Australia,” said a spokesperson for French sponsor Lacoste.
A week has passed and there have been no updates from the Djokovic or Lacoste team.
Brand Finance, a firm that analyzes high-profile personal brands, estimates Djokovic’s total worth at more than $179 million ($249 million) and his current annual income from sponsors at around $35 million.
Losing Lacoste could mean a financial hit of up to $64 million, according to Hugo Hensley, who heads the company’s sports department.
“Personal brand in tennis can clearly be a huge driver of value, which becomes more pronounced at the top; Federer would still earn almost three times the sponsorship income of Djokovic at the age of 40,” he says.
“Depending on the future of Djokovic’s moves, his sponsorship appeal could shift from being entirely brand-driven to being primarily exposure-driven.
“A brand-driven partnership is one in which the sponsor hopes to attract positive attributes to its brand by associating with a strong [name], while weaker sports brands may have to settle for sponsors who are simply looking to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
If Novak wants to save Brand Djokovic, Janjic says he needs to spend less time in Serbia and separate himself from his openly nationalist and new-age beliefs, at least publicly.
“He has to come up with a whole new business plan – that’s new math for Novak,” says Janjic.
But there are signals that Djokovic will continue to fight. british tabloid The sun quoted a source close to the player’s agent as saying Djokovic could sue Australia for the lost winnings.
There are also reports that a fly-on-the-wall documentary is in the works for Netflix. The production company that reportedly produced the documentary did not respond to a request for comment.
In Serbia, there is no doubt that Djokovic remains the ‘One’. But whether he can win a 21st Grand Slam without being vaccinated and seal his reputation as the GOAT – the greatest of all time – depends on his next serve.
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