‘Sometimes the wise man says nothing at all’
Novak Djokovic could learn to take this advice before he completely destroys his reputation as one of the all-time greats. After Wimbledon took the sensible decision to ban Russian players from this year’s tournament, the Serbian gave his view on the matter.
"I know how much emotional trauma [war] leaves," he said. "In Serbia we all know what happened in 1999. In the Balkans, we have had many wars in recent history. However, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy.
"When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good."
Unfortunately for Djokovic, politics is and always has been intrinsically linked with sport. The two are inseparable. Jesse Owens won four gold medals as a black man at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 during the Nazi regime, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games and NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took the knee in 2016 during the national anthem as a protest against racial violence.
To this day, Premier League footballers continue to take the knee, while support for Ukraine has been widespread around the top flight, with several clubs displaying the blue and yellow flag ahead of kick-off. That’s about as political as it gets.
Wimbledon has to ban Russian players because otherwise there are no consequences on a sporting level. Just as Russia will be removed from the women’s Euro 2022 competition, and Formula One has stripped Russia of its Grand Prix, the sporting world has to show complete unity against this abhorrent and illegal invasion.
Sure, Daniil Medvedev isn’t on the front line fighting against Ukraine, but importantly he hasn’t condemned his country, or denounced Vladimir Putin. If you aren’t openly against Russia, then you are for them. Of course, that is easier said than done given the brutality of the Putin regime, but sport cannot allow for any flexibility on this issue.
It is a matter that Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina has recently spoken to BBC Radio 5 Live about.
"If players don't speak out against the Russian government then it is the right thing to ban them. We just want them to speak up, if they are with us and the rest of the world or the Russian government. This is for me the main point.”
But Djokovic’s stance on the matter is not the same. Just as his take on vaccines was wildly misplaced, he is once again putting himself on the wrong side of history. And if he continues on this path he is in serious danger of spoiling his on-court legacy. Much like Margaret Court has.
One of the greatest players of all time, with 24 Grand Slam titles to her name, Court has since soured her reputation as one of the best ever. She has vehemently opposed same-sex marriage, supported apartheid and insulted Martina Navratilova for her homosexuality.
“South Africans have this thing better organised than any other country, particularly America,” she claimed in 1970, while 20 years later she tore into the nine-time Wimbledon champion.
“A great player but I’d like someone at the top who the younger players can look up to. It’s very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality. Martina is a nice person. Her life has just gone astray.”
Now, when people think about Court, they don’t immediately think about tennis. They think about these outdated views. There have been several attempts to rename Melbourne Park’s Margaret Court Arena, none of which have been successful, but this is now her legacy. A woman tennis would rather forget.
If Djokovic continues along this path, he will follow in her footsteps a little too closely.