Skip to main content

Novak Djokovic gestures from his hotel balcony in Adelaide on Jan. 18, 2021, where he is being quarantined for two weeks ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament.BRENTON EDWARDS/AFP/Getty Images

One of the least discussed side effects of COVID-19 is double-talk. You don’t even need to be infected to experience it.

It’s most common among politicians, public-health spokespeople and that friend of yours who posted 400 photos from her family’s Christmas vacation to the Bahamas. It starts with clichés and home truths: “We’re all in this together.” “Everyone needs to do their part.” “It’s a sacrifice, but hey, it’s not a war.”

Over time, you find yourself doing the exact opposite of your own advice. Studies have yet to make clear what causes this, but anecdotal evidence suggests it tends to occur when what you say you want to do comes into conflict with what you actually want to do – or whenever someone invites you to a cottage.

Right now, the epicentre of this outbreak is in Melbourne.

That’s where they’ll play the Australian Open in three weeks’ time. Maybe.

Australia does not screw around when it comes to the pandemic. Australia does COVID-19 lockdowns the way Canada does COVID-19 news conferences – blanket coverage.

So when a few hundred tennis players and their retinues agreed to abide by Australian rules in order to travel to the year’s first grand slam, they knew what they were getting into. But then what they said they would do began butting up against what they want to do, and things got stupid.

This is part of a bigger trend. For months now, athletes and leagues have been having it every which way when it comes to pandemic messaging.

Yes, they all agree to a man, woman and press release that this thing is superserious and every possible precaution should be taken.

But not for them. Or their season-ticket holders. Or in the air lanes they travel. Or at the provincial and state borders they have to cross. Or as it applies to the workers who service them.

Everyone who can should stay home. Except multi-millionaires who have things to do.

The rest of us have tolerated this, even indulged it. Who doesn’t like watching a game after a long day spent staring out the window hoping to see a squirrel?

We have also overlooked sports’ well-advanced case of double-talk. Nobody has bothered challenging their fantastical assertions – how they are adhering to the most stringent procedures possible, and yet someone in a league somewhere is coming down with COVID-19 every other day.

If everyone on the teams is virus-free and the teams only have close contact with each other, how exactly are they getting the virus? It’s a mystery.

Sure, that guy went to a strip club. And yeah, now that you mention it, that other guy went to a birthday party. And I suppose we should let you know – since the pictures are all over Instagram – that she went to a SoulCycle class held in a sauna.

But, you know, it’s impossible to fully contain this thing.

Rinse and repeat.

Through a variety of factors, the Australian Open has become a tipping point of the double-talk pandemic.

All the players and their teams began flying in together last week. But like they say in the movie trailers, they weren’t alone.

Despite everyone on board having been tested hours before takeoff, COVID-19 was also a passenger. In keeping with Australian rules, that means everyone on the plane must spend 14 days isolated in a hotel room before they can go outside to play with the other rich children.

As of Monday morning, there were 70 players and many more staff in quarantine.

The smart thing to do here is to keep quiet and take your lumps. Sure, it’s no fun. Yes, it is suboptimal to do no proper training for two weeks before a tournament. But if you don’t like it, you can go home afterward. Better still, if being in this situation is unbearable to you, you should not have come in the first place.

We used to look down on whiners. But social media has encouraged us all to speak our truths – even when those truths are deeply annoying. I’m all for truth. I just wish people would feel less need to announce so much of it.

French player Alizé Cornet was the first to crack. She called the measures “insane.”

You know what’s insane? Jon Hamm’s management team for letting him do those Skip the Dishes ads.

I’m not sure isolating people who may be infected with a contagious pathogen is “insane.” Because otherwise, Hollywood got this very wrong for a long time.

To her credit, Cornet backed down quickly and without dissimulation.

But others stood to assume her place on the firing line. Bernard Tomic and his girlfriend whined that there was nothing to do in their hotel room but play video games. I don’t know. You could read a book. Or learn how to read a book.

Other players went to Herculean lengths to passive-aggressively complain without actually complaining. They took videos of themselves banging balls against walls and upturned beds, skipping rope and running laps in their rooms.

We get it. You’re unhappy.

The pièce de résistance is an apparent list of demands sent by world No. 1 Novak Djokovic to tournament organizers. The spirit of the list – which no one has bothered denying is real – is captured by Demand No. 6: “Move as many players as possible to private houses with a court to train.”

Because, you know, there are all these empty houses sitting around Melbourne, each one accessorized with its own tennis court, just waiting for someone important enough to be given free access to them.

What? There are people living in those houses? Oh. I guess they’ll have to leave.

This has put Australian politicians in the role of parents to unruly children.

“People are free to provide lists of demands,” said Daniel Andrews, the Premier of the state of Victoria. “But the answer is no.”

It’s hard to argue with “No.” People in charge should try it more often.

At this point, the Australian Open will almost certainly proceed. Too much time and money has already been spent on it. Tennis’ well-earned reputation as a hot zone of the overindulged, the self-important and the tone-deaf will thrive as well.

But there is a small hope in the medical community that the double-talk outbreak may be dented some in Melbourne. As it turns out, the cure is talking back.