Djokovic the Philanthropist

A Hero’s Impact

As we are developing our Impact Intelligence series focusing on impact practices around the world and throughout sectors, we must not turn a blind eye to our own region and the very early stage of understanding social responsibility and impact around us. This blog is dedicated to telling a story of how (often) social responsibility and social personal or professional impact one has, is swept under the rug of philanthropy. 

As children, we all had our heroes or our role models but in our grown up lives, ruled by influencers, this does not necessarily change. By definition, a hero is someone who knowingly and voluntarily makes a conscious decision to sacrifice something of one’s self for the greater good of others. Note that to be a hero, you do not just act responsibly but you go above and beyond, to put others in front of yourself. Sports heroes, especially in our region, are often considered to have a transformative impact on our countries, becoming national heroes and icons of a particular time period or era. 

From Hero to Zero

Novak Djokovic is a famous Serbian tennis player – a national hero (but also the best tennis player in the world). Djokovic was deported from Australia in 2022 after losing a last-ditch court bid to stay in the country. Judges rejected a challenge by the unvaccinated tennis player after the government canceled his visa on “health and good order” grounds. The first ruling went into Djokovic’s favor and it was speculated that this wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t No.1 tennis player in the world. There were also serious allegations of his CRP test being falsified. Having missed the USA open last year, Djokovic has just confirmed that he will be taking part this year as the USA government announced ending its covid-19 vaccination requirement for international travelers. 

Not long after he stepped off the plane in Melbourne and into legal uncertainty, his father, Srdjan, held a press conference, confidently declaring, “Novak is Serbia, Serbia is Novak.” Headlines started circulating about his good deeds, donations and humanitarian aid. Before the Australian government revoked his visa, Djokovic’s official Facebook page listed his most recent donations. The page also argued that as well as being known for his healthy lifestyle and diet, he is a role model for his character and mental endurance, his diligent work and self-discipline. Novak Djokovic has fought back to reinvigorate his reputation, revealing he has given $1 million to the Australian Open junior tennis program. Described as a  “philanthropist” in media articles, he has had a significant impact on people and communities. 

Hero Responsibility and Impact lessons 

Let us evaluate the impact and the responsibility Djokovic had in this situation. The personal and professional/social (if we see Djokovic as an influencer and a role model and not just a tennis player) responsibility would include: 

  1. Abiding by the rules, the law and the basic accepted respect for human rights. This is the very minimum of personal responsibility and was neglected several times by disrespecting the rules of the tournament as well as the law of the country and last but not least the consideration for life and safety of others. In addition Djokovic (if allegations are true) participated in falsifying an official document (PCR test). Thus his behavior was most certainly not responsible and had a negative impact on others. 
  2. Going a step further, we look at professional or social responsibility. Being an influencer and a role model, creating negative impact multiples enormously by being able to influence others. Not taking responsibility for his actions, promoting irresponsible behavior, using privilege and influence to disrespect the rules and break the law in this situation go beyond just personal responsibility and create additional and significant negative social impact.
  3. Thirdly, we look at the context. If the impact we cause is within the context or an issue that is especially sensitive or is at the very center of concern of a certain community or a society our (negative) impact increases even more. We have two, very relevant and very impactful issues here, one of covid-19 and vaccination and the other of corruption (falsification) with extreme importance in the region. 

At the same time as a response we only see the publication of donations and philanthropic work of Djokovic foundation. It is important to note, not just for Djokovic but for any actor, be it a person or a company that contributing to solving one problem does not in any way make up for personally or professionally creating another. More so if that means threatening the health or life of others or disrespecting the law and expecting money or privilege to save you from repercussions. What we see today in the region (and around the world) is a philanthropic model as the key component of the (corporate) social responsibility, by which philanthropy has the sole power to usher an impact. However, paying your taxes is the zero criteria which we must consider before we take into consideration your donation to the local football club. In finance and impact alike.

This blog was written by Monika Mišir as she interned in Impact House as a part of her applied sociology class. She was mentored in her work and blog by Tamara Puhovski, Impact House CEO, who also served as the co-writer and editor for the blog.