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Federations & Associations against Athletes: A long looming conflict

While Novak Djokovic is going through a turmoil with his recent loss of the visa appeal in Australia, his fellow players and members of administration, feel otherwise. Though currently Djokovic is in Dubai, he was reportedly “extremely disappointed” by the court's decision pertaining to his visa hearing. His visa was cancelled because he failed to show why he was medically exempt to get inoculated against the COVID-19 vaccine.

The question posed regarding the Djokovic case goes above and beyond the vaccination controversy. In this case it is important to ask the question as to why Djokovic was exempted from the tournament vaccination rules? The border officials and tournament officials should have taken a joint decision, before the tournament officials informed Djokovic that he would be allowed to play the tournament. Since he had been infected with the virus 6 months prior to the tournament. If the Australian Open tournament officials would have denied any medical exemptions by stating that either one has to be double vaxxed or one cannot participate, this fiasco could have been easily avoided. Thus, Djokovic’s case raises a lot of questions regarding if associations and federations such as the Australian Open have made such errors of judgement in the past and how more often than not they win the battle against athletes.

What needs to be looked into closely is the federations such as the Australian Open and how they treat athletes such as Novak Djokovic. There have been instances in the past where big federations like the Olympics have always won the battle against the athletes. Mental health is a topic that has been raved about in the 21st century but big organisations still fail to make concessions regarding the same. In 2021, during the French Open, World number two, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open due to her battle with depression. She revealed that she had suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018. Even after withdrawing from the competition, Osaka was fined 15,000 dollars for skipping the press conference following her win in the first round in the ongoing French Open. In spite of Osaka denying to take part in press conferences in order to better her mental health, the federation turned a blind eye. In the end, Osaka ruled herself out from the tournament.

U.S. Gymnast Simone Biles also had issues with the International Gymnastics Federation when the judges scoring her on her latest signature skill ‘Yurchenko’ double pike were not impressed. This came as a shock not only to Biles herself but also the crowd who was watching her at the Indiana Convention Centre. The ‘Yurchenko’ double pike is considered so perilous and challenging that no other woman has attempted it in competition, and it is unlikely that any woman in the world is even training to give it a try. Not even the vault’s namesake, the former Russian gymnast Natalia Yurchenko, tried it in the competition. Despite the move’s difficulty, the judges of the International Gymnastics Federation gave it a provisional scoring value of 6.6, close to what Biles’s other vaults have received. Biles was extremely disappointed with the verdict and expressed her dismay by saying, “I feel like now we just have to get what we get because there’s no point in putting up a fight because they’re not going to reward it,” she said of judges. Ultimately, the International Gymnastics Federation, which has the final word on starting values for new vaults done in competition. “So we just have to take it and be quiet.” Biles also added that the gymnastics federation had similarly given her double-twisting, double-back beam dismount a start value that was too low, and that she expects it to undervalue her ‘Yurchenko’ double pike when it is reviewed.This incident, once again sheds light on how the federation is bringing down the morale of the athletes who want to pursue their sport to the greatest capabilities that they can.

Social media has also been a platform where most athletes either voice their concerns or celebrate their wins. Though it is important for athletes to be stringent with who is watching their posts. Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna failed in his appeal against a 40,000 pound fine from the Football Association(FA) for a social media post that “appeared” to question referee Lee Mason’s impartiality. Even though City secured a 2-1 win against Burnley, Sagna was involved in an altercation with Burnley midfielder George Boyd which should have resulted in a red card but was not given. The caption of his post on Instagram had read, “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team #together #mancity #youfreetothinkwhateveryouwant.” This post is clearly an athletes freedom of speech and expression to post what he may feel like post a win. He did not demean anyone and neither did he violate any rules of Instagram. Yet, once again the FA confirmed that the financial penalty imposed on him would still stand. Post this incident, Sagna was also warned regarding his future conducted. The reason the Appeal Board dismissed Sagna’s appeal is because his Instagram post questioned the integrity of the match official and/or alleged and/or implied bias on the part of the match official and/or brought the game into disrepute.

Lastly, cricket has been a sport that Indians have loved since eons and the Indian Women’s cricket team has proved themselves when they won their first T20I series. Though after the semi-final loss at the World T20 in the West Indies, Mithali Raj blamed the team management for benching her due to ego problems. This reaction from the Board of Control for Indian Cricket (BCCI) against Raj, the highest run scorer in the women’s international game and still India’s one-day captain led to her feeling deflated, depressed and let down. She had a strong feeling that the coach, Diana Edulji has a strong bias against her. In Raj’s long letter to the BCCI, she expressed her feelings with regards to her problems with Edulji, despite having spoken to Edulji about the problems she was facing in the Caribbean, she used that against Raj and made the decision of benching her for the semi-final. This left Raj extremely distressed. Nevertheless, the BCCI did nothing with respect to the matter and this just goes to show how the administration more often than not leaves the athlete’s in the dark.

In conclusion, these type of situations could also pose as a mental threat to athletes, disrupting their emotional and psychological well-being. This also hampers the athletes performance both on and off the field. So the question that big federations and administrations need to ask themselves is, does making rulings against athlete bring down their morale and will to play? Will athletes in the future lose their trust in the federations that they have been associated with? Or is politics, mistrust and misinformation always going to go hand in hand with the sports fraternity?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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About the author Urja Mehta -

Urja Mehta is a state level athlete, who has played football for the state of Maharashtra. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts and Humanities with her major in Psychology from O.P Jindal Global University in August 2021. She is going to the UK in October 2022, to pursue her MSc Sports and Exercise Psychology degree at Loughborough University.

About Simply Sport

Simply Sport is a sports policy research & development organization based out of India. Simply Sport’s vision is to promote sports as an effective tool for the development of the nation. It focuses on policy research, grassroots development and the use of technology in sports. To subscribe to Simply Sports Newsletters, Research & Articles, please write to You can follow Simply Sport on the Twitter handle @_SimplySport for more sports-related content.



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