As Novak Djokovic faced criticism in the sporting world for organising a tennis tournament that spread COVID-19 infections, newspapers in the Balkans conceded Wednesday that the region had become too complacent in its fight against the pandemic.
World number one Djokovic, who has been infected himself, has said he is "deeply sorry" for the now-cancelled Adria Tour, which started in Belgrade in mid-June before moving to Zadar in Croatia last weekend.
Top players Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki have also tested positive after participating in the event.
"At the end of the day it is maybe the fact that all of us, including tennis players, relaxed," the Croatian daily Sportske Novosti said of the exhibition tournament that brought thousands together in Serbia and Croatia with virtually no social distancing measures.
Serbia had essentially lifted all anti-virus measures at the time of the first leg of the tournament, allowing this tournament to go ahead with 4,000 spectators present, as well as other mass events including a football match with a 16,000 crowd.
The Serbian newspaper Danas noted that this "example of the world number one (becoming infected) is maybe the best warning for all others that no one is immune to a vicious virus."
The competition was meant to raise money for charities while the professional tennis season was halted by the pandemic. It also involved the players taking part in basketball games and partying at a nightclub.
"Tennis was, of course, at the forefront, but the parties, exchanges with fans and relaxed outings meant that people didn't care about safety measures at the time of the pandemic," wrote Bosnian news portal Klix.
- 'The idea was good' -
Croatia was shedding confinement measures after bringing infections down to zero for several days in June.
"When we accepted Novak's idea to organise the tour, the epidemiological situation in Croatia was much better," Croatia's tennis federation president Nikolina Babic told the Vecernji List daily paper on Wednesday.
"Maybe some minor mistakes were made but the idea was good," she insisted.
Djokovic had previously defended the tournament due to the region's apparent success in suppressing the virus.
"We have different measures in Serbia than in the US for example, or UK," he had said.
In Croatia, criticism has concentrated on the event organisers and health authorities for weak enforcement of social distancing at the matches.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who attended the event in Zadar last Saturday and patted Djokovic on the shoulder, has also come under fire for not going into self-isolation.
Plenkovic tested negative but opposition critics say he is still endangering the health of citizens by touring the country ahead of elections on July 5.
Meanwhile Novak's father Srdjan Djokovic said he suspects Dimitrov, the Bulgarian ranked 19 in the world who was the first to test positive, "probably arrived sick" at the tournament.
"Nobody feels good because of this situation... but it is what it is and we have to come out of it stronger," he told Croatian TV station RTL.
Novak Djokovic is depicted on a billboard on a building in Belgrade