In a less dangerous time, a more forgiving public viewed Novak Djokovic’s nontraditional views of science and health as the quirky characteristics of a hyperactive seeker with strongly held beliefs about everything from sports to spirituality.
Djokovic, an outspoken skeptic of vaccines, will spend the weekend detained in a hotel room in Melbourne, Australia, waiting out a legal appeal and expected hearing on Monday in hopes of gaining entry to the country following a public and political outcry over the medical exemption he received to play in the Australian Open without being vaccinated. The Australian Border Force rejected his paperwork supporting that exemption on Wednesday.
He is not alone. The Czech foreign ministry confirmed on Friday that a Czech women’s tennis player, Renata Voracova, was “in the same detention as Djokovic, together with several other tennis players.”
“According to our information, she has proven noninfectious status in a way that entitles her to participate in the tournament,” the statement said of Voracova. “She has even played one match. For this reason, we have lodged a protest note with the Australian authorities through the embassy in Canberra, asking them to explain the situation.”
The Czech ministry’s statement did not name the other players, and said that Voracova, a 38-year-old best known as a doubles specialist, had “decided to give up further participation in the tournament and leave Australia due to the limited possibility of training.”
But her detention, and that of other players, could suggest that the Australian government is conducting stricter reviews of the documents supporting medical exemptions granted to players seeking to enter — or already present in — Australia in the wake of the Djokovic affair.
Voracova played, and lost, a doubles match at an Australian Open warm-up event on Wednesday.
The pitched battle over what was supposed to be Djokovic’s quest for a record 10th Australian Open men’s singles championship has highlighted a new dynamic for stars like Djokovic. The latest surge of coronavirus cases and the ongoing struggle to exit the pandemic have shifted public perceptions: athletes once viewed favorably as iconoclasts are now encountering pushback when they want to play by different rules than everyone else.
For sports organizations and leagues, the stakes are high. For more than a decade, access to social media has given sports stars the ability to become more outspoken and impactful than ever. As long as what they say has not been offensive or polarizing, they provided free, mostly positive publicity for their sports, their causes and their own brands.
The vaccination issue has changed the equation for sports, whose return in 2020 was viewed positively when they modeled safe behavior, such as mask wearing, playing before sparse crowds or no one at all, and participating in regular testing. The behavior and outspokenness of Djokovic, N.F.L. quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the star basketball player Kyrie Irving and others against vaccines has jeopardized that good will, and organizations are now tightening their rules to play defense.