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Novak Djokovic is currently the #1 ranked men’s tennis player in the world, having won 86 career singles titles and 20 Grand Slam tournaments. Djokovic has made headlines recently, specifically regarding his vaccination status before the upcoming Australian Open. Djokovic has publicly stated that he is unvaccinated and was temporarily denied entry into Australia because he allegedly did not have the proper health exemption to enter the country unvaccinated. This has stirred some controversy, with some supporting Djokovic’s choice to remain unvaccinated and others criticizing his decision. The controversy has also focused on Djokovic’s travel documents, with some alleging that he lied on his documents in order to bypass Australia’s vaccine laws. Djokovic, on the other hand, has maintained that the errors were an honest mistake, and that he did not intend to mislead anyone. On Saturday, Jan 15th, the tennis star lost his appeal to the Australian government, ultimately getting him deported from the country and banned from returning for three years.
We mined and analyzed online conversation and content and surveyed our Finger on the Pulse panel (1,000 adults 18+) to better understand what matters to people when it comes to sports, athletes, vaccines and Covid protocols…
- Should athletes be exempt from general travel protocols during Covid?
- Is there a correlation between a person’s vaccination status and behaviors and their opinions on the Djokovic situation?
- Are there certain cohorts more likely to take one side or the other in the debate?
- Does whether or not he is given special permission to play in the Australian Open influence people’s decision to watch or not watch the event?
WHAT WE LEARNED:
Polarized and Divided: A person’s vaccination status will likely color their outlook on the debate around Djokovic.
Mirroring American’s divided stance on vaccination requirements, when it came to whether Novak Djokovic should be allowed to play in the Australian Open, U.S. opinions were polarized, which was directly correlated to their own vaccination status:
- Only a slight majority of total respondents (53%) believed Novak Djokovic should not be allowed to play in the Australian Open. Tennis fans were more firmly in the ‘no play’ camp, with 2/3 saying Djokovic should not be allowed to play.
- 39% of those cited his unvaccinated status as the reason
- 15% of those cited issues with his travel visa as the reason
- 29% said he should be allowed to play
- 18% of respondents didn’t feel strongly either way
- The vaccination divide was clear: 71% of unvaccinated respondents thought Djokovic should be allowed to play in the Australian Open, while 38% of those vaccinated thought he should not be allowed to play:
- 78% of unvaccinated respondents felt Australia’s rules are too strict, vs. 19% of vaccinated respondents
Debates on social media also expressed extremes:
Positive language doesn’t equate to support for one side or the other in the debate. Positive language can appear in posts that both praise and condemn Djokovic. For example:
- Novak Djokovic is an icon of free choice. @dotmatrixherohd
- Good for Rafael Nadal. I admire people who have integrity & the courage to speak up and expose the arrogant idiots like Djokovic… @carolmu
The same can be said for negative language:
- @DjokerNole What an absolute disgrace. You should be ashamed that you would risk endangering the health of others. @derehamjasmine
- Novak Djokovic was made an example of to intimidate other people. A set up from the very start. Disgusting and foul malevolence, but that’s what we expect from the post-democratic state of Australia. @prisonplanet
Hashtags also were used in support of polarized viewpoints:
- Hashtags around boycotting the Australian Open (#boycottAO, #boycottAustralianOpen, etc.) garnered ~54k posts
- Hashtags expressing support for Djokovic (#iStandWithDjokovic, #westandwithDjokovic) also garnered ~54k posts
However, despite one’s vaccination status or beliefs, nobody should be allowed to break the rules—no matter their ‘celebrity’ status:
Over three fourths (76%) of people think vaccination rules should apply to everyone equally.
- 70% think professional athletes should not be except from the rules
- 61% think Djokovic was trying to use his status to get around the rules
Across social media listening, people largely agreed that the rules should apply to everyone, regardless of status:
- Rules are rules. Not often do the same rules apply to the rich and famous. I’m thrilled to see that Novak Djokovic is being forced to follow the same ones everyone else. Yay Australia! @aubreyandrews
- GO HOME! Absolutely no exceptions for athletes. A waste of the courts time! Shame on @DjokerNole @pamm_28
- #Djokovic stands for both the selfishness of the consciously unvaccinated who free-ride on the rest of society while casually endangering others, and the arrogance and deceit of the rich and powerful who think the rules don’t apply to them. That’s why this decision is satisfying. @mvanhulten
Media attention did not impact intent to watch the Australian Open among the general population, but it did among tennis fans.
While this debate garnered a ton of media attention and hit news cycles outside of sports news, it did not impact the general population’s intent to watch the Australian Open.
- For the general population, nearly half of respondents were aware of the controversy (49%) regardless of whether they were a tennis fan or not, but their intent to watch remained largely unchanged by the events with nearly 7 in 10 (69%) saying it will not impact their intent to watch the Australian Open if Djokovic ended up being denied entry into the country.
- Not surprisingly, the controversy could end up increasing viewing of the Australian Open among tennis fans: 60% say the controversy around Djokovic may make them more likely to tune in.
Additional Survey Data:
Survey Source: Horizon’s Finger on the Pulse Survey n=1,069, Fielded Jan 14-17, 2022
Nearly 7 in ten respondents (68%) think it’s extremely or very important (T2B) for athletes to be vaccinated in order to play. For Tennis Fans this number is even higher at 88%:
- Results are similar when asked about coaches, judges/referees, event staff, and attendees (any agree)
Even with a majority in support of the vaccination rules, it’s not a win-win for everyone. Over a third (38%) of respondents think the Australian Open would be less interesting without the top ranked player participating.
Most people think the rules are reasonable:
Over 6 in ten (61%) of respondents think the rules set by the Australian government requiring vaccination or an approved medical exemption are “just fine.”
- 27% think the rules are too strict
- 12% think the rules are too lenient
Additional Social Listening
Social Listening Sources: Netbase, Twitter, Imgur
The below chart shows that social conversation around Novak Djokovic from Jan 1-16, 2022, compared to 2021. There were 2.8M social posts about Djokovic in all of 2021 and already 3.4M posts in the first two weeks of January alone. Total conversation sentiment for 2022 is 33% positive, 39% negative and 29% neutral. Isolating US- and Australian-based sentiment leads to a similar split.
SOCIAL CONVERSATION THEMES
Hashtags around boycotting the Australian Open (#boycottAO, #boycottAustralianOpen, etc.) garnered 54k+ posts, with the largest initial spike in conversation on Jan 6 and smaller subsequent spikes on Jan 14 and Jan 16.
- Shame on you! Utterly corrupt, spineless and totally unethical! I hope you’re all proud of yourselves. You’ve shown us that money and power can buy you EVERYTHING! EXCEPT A CONSCIENCE! #BoycottAustralianOpen #DjokovicOut #NovaxDjokovid – @bee_eye_bee_eye
- I am in contact w/ about 2k tennis players every g.slam time — worldwide, yet mostly in Florida). ALL are disgusted by #Djokovic + @CraigTiley + #AusOpen and are boycotting this year. ONE PERSON ≠ an entire sport. – @FLTOGolfGuy
- #BoycottAustralianOpen respect our laws #Novax #liar #Novak_Djokovic make him deported before the final @CabronPote
Australian posts express similar sentiment to the general conversation, but express it a bit more personally:
- I don’t want Novak Djokovic in Australia. In a time when the Australian health system is in crisis it sends the wrong message to let an anti-vaxxer and someone who openly flouts covid safety procedures into the country. @frontlineRN22
- If he had any decency or conscious, Djokovic would go home without being forced to do so. @NewcastleGardia
- It’s obvious that Novak Djokovic doesn’t care about other people #DjokovicOut @wilkim1971
- Maybe he should have some respect for all the people in Melbourne unable to travel or have family visit. Hope the entitled twat is on a plane home. #melbourne #covidiots #protectaustralia –imgur