Novak Djokovic’s fight against deportation from Australia due to his Covid-19 vaccine status has found support from anti-vaccine groups who have co-opted his battle to advance their cause.
The world’s number one men’s tennis player, who had long refused to disclose his Covid vaccine status before court documents show he had not been immunized, on Monday won a resounding victory over the Australian government to overturn the cancellation of his visa.
The news has been greeted with glee by leading groups and personalities who have sought to undermine Covid vaccination efforts.
A message calling on people to rally outside Djokovic’s place of detention in Melbourne was posted to a Telegram group dedicated to organizing protests with more than 16,000 members.
Private messaging service Telegram has become a popular alternative for anti-vaccine groups as social media giants remove disinformation from their platforms.
“Renew Novak’s visa. No vaccine passport. End medical segregation,” read a sign posted by a protester outside the detention center that circulated on Telegram groups.
Monday’s protest was broadcast live by Real Rukshan, which rose to prominence after broadcasting anti-vaccine protests in Melbourne, including a violent rally in September involving construction workers.
An anti-containment group, Reignite Democracy Australia, has asked if Djokovic is a “silver lining” in the fight against vaccines.
Other prominent figures who have championed Djokovic’s cause include Craig Kelly, a politician and vaccine skeptic who took to Telegram to “apologize” to the player on behalf of Australia.
On social media, the hashtags #FreeNovak and #IStandWithNovak drew attention to Djokovic’s case, but also became a vehicle for vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Photos of Microsoft founder Bill Gates alongside tennis stars Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have been released to suggest the trio were part of a vaccination plot.
People close to Djokovic have also shared unverified claims about Covid vaccines in the past. Jelena, Djokovic’s partner, had an Instagram post flagged as false information in April 2020 for claiming 5G technology was the cause of the virus.