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Tennis - 18 Jan 2022
Lacoste, the French sportswear and fashion brand that sponsors world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic, has said that it intends to “review the events” surrounding his ill-fated trip to play in the ongoing 2022 Australian Open.
Djokovic was deported from Australia following a 10-day legal battle about his visa and his right to stay in the country unvaccinated against Covid-19.
In a statement released yesterday (January 17), Lacoste said: “As soon as possible, we will be in touch with Novak Djokovic to review the events that have accompanied his presence in Australia.”
The full statement makes no indication of any intention to end the partnership with Djokovic but also stops short of offering any support ahead of matters being reviewed.
The company only renewed its tie-up with the Serbian last August in a deal due to run through to 2025.
Djokovic had been hoping to defend his Australian Open title and win a 21st grand slam to become the most successful male tennis player ever.
While an initial visa cancellation to enter Australia was overturned, Alex Hawke, Australia’s minister for immigration, citizenship, migrant services, and multicultural affairs, used his discretionary powers to cancel the visa a second time “on health and good order grounds”.
In the interim, questions were raised about errors on Djokovic’s entry paperwork, his breaking of isolation guidelines following a recent positive Covid-19 test result in Serbia that had gained him a medical exemption to enter the country, and even the validity of the test itself.
Subsequently, the possibilities of Djokovic competing at tennis’ other grand slams - the French Open, the US Open, and Wimbledon - have also been cast into doubt.
France has passed a new law requiring people to have vaccination certificates to enter public spaces from which the country's Sports Ministry has said there will be no exemptions, foreign visitors to the US must be fully vaccinated, and unvaccinated visitors to the UK must quarantine for 10 days.
Furthermore, the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper has cited a source as saying that the All England Club, which hosts the Wimbledon championship, is prepared to go further than the law requires where Covid-19 countermeasures are concerned.
All this will set alarm bells ringing for Djokovic’s sponsors, which will be recognizing that their returns on investment could be drastically reduced - partly through hid potential lack of grand slam appearances and partly if the public mood swings against the player.
Following the star’s deportation, Conrad Wiacek, head of sport analysis at GlobalData, had commented: “Given the polarizing nature of the debate surrounding Djokovic, Covid, and mandatory vaccinations, I would not expect any of Djokovic’s partners to immediately terminate deals in the short term. What is more likely is that deals will not be renewed and that sponsors will quietly walk away.
“However, should issues arise with Djokovic when the time comes to play the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open, then sponsors may be forced to act. The US Open is likely to be a significant flashpoint, given the current rules regarding vaccinations in New York forcing the likes of NBA star Kyrie Irving to sit out Brooklyn Nets home games.
“Sponsors will be trying to judge the public mood and if they feel that associating themselves with Djokovic is likely to harm their brand, then they will not hesitate to walk away.”
Meanwhile, the board of Tennis Australia, the national governing body for the sport that organizes the Australian Open, has backed its chief executive Craig Tiley following calls from some for his sacking.
The organization was criticized for suggesting to players that they could enter Australia unvaccinated if they had tested positive for Covid-19 within the last six months, but Tiley countered that there had been too much misinformation from authorities about what would be allowed.
Jayne Hrdlicka, chair of Tennis Australia, said in a statement today (January 18): “The board and Member Associations commend the Tennis Australia CEO and the entire Tennis Australia team for their hard work and dedication to delivering a spectacular summer of tennis.
"As the Australian tennis family, we recognize that recent events have been a significant distraction for everyone, and we deeply regret the impact this had on all players.”