Michael Phelps Discusses Djokovic, COVID, and Lia Thomas in a CNN Interview

In a vulnerable conversation with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about the pandemic and its impact on mental health, swimming legend Michael Phelps is specifically asked about the controversies surrounding tennis star Novak Djokovic and the Australian Open, and University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas

Djokovic, who is currently the world’s top ranked men’s tennis player, has sparked a media frenzy surrounding his vaccination status and his Australian visa being revoked, reinstated, and revoked again at the time of this story’s publication. 

When asked about his stance on the Djokovic debacle, Phelps says, “As athletes we are role models.”

“We all need to be on the same page if we’re going to get through [COVID] together,” says Phelps. He continues, “I hope that we can agree on something and make it through [the pandemic] without losing more lives.” 

While the most decorated Olympian of all time has been very open about his personal struggles with mental health, his interview with Amanpour marks the first time that he’s publicly commented on the pandemic itself. “I had COVID and it was terrible,” Phelps says. “I literally thought that I was going to die for 36 hours.” 

Upon arrival in Australia last week, the Australian Border Force canceled Djokovic’s visa saying, “[He] failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements.” Australia has a vaccination requirement for all individuals, and while Djokovic believed he had received a medical exemption because of a late-December bout of the virus, border patrol agents canceled his visa.

Djokovic was subsequently detained until Monday when a judge ruled that he was allowed to stay in the country. In an appeal hearing, the tennis star’s legal team successfully argued that he had natural immunity from the virus from contracting it in December, which then qualified him for a medical exemption from Australia’s vaccination mandate. 

Djokovic’s press conference following his visa reinstatement on Monday was abruptly cut off when the tennis player was asked about him attending events after knowingly testing positive for COVID. In a statement on his Instagram from Wednesday, Djokovic admitted to attending a photoshoot and an interview with L’Equipe in Serbia on December 18, after being notified of a positive test result from a sample collected on December 16. 

The tennis player wrote, “I felt obligated to go ahead and conduct the L’Equipe interview as I did not want to let the journalist down.” 

He continued, “On reflection, this was an error of judgment, and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment.” 

While awaiting his COVID test results, a maskless Djokovic attended a children’s sport awards event in Belgrade on December 17 and explained that his rapid antigen test from that day was negative. 

Today, Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke announced that Djokovic’s visa was being revoked again saying in a statement, “Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”

An appeal hearing to determine if Djokovic can play in the Australian Open, which begins on Sunday, will take place in Australia’s Federal Court on Saturday. If Djokovic’s bid for visa reinstatement fails, he may be banned from obtaining an Australian visa for three years. 

Djokovic is currently tied for 20 Grand Slam wins with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. If his visa is reinstated, which seems increasingly unlikely, and he wins the Australian Open, Djokovic would have 21 Grand Slam titles, and hold this record solo.

At the end of the interview, Amanpour asked Phelps about another controversy in the sports world. Phelps was asked about his thoughts on University of Pennsylvania swimmer Thomas. 

Speaking from a doping perspective, Phelps explains that he doesn’t believe he ever competed in a clean sport. “It has to be a level playing field,” he says. 

“We all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin,” says Phelps. “This has been my sport for my whole entire career, and honestly the one thing I would love is for everybody to compete on an even playing field.”

In the first few years of his retirement, Phelps, the most-decorated Olympian in history, was relatively-quiet about issues in swimming more broadly. That began to change last summer, though, when he sat in on NBC commentary during the US Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games, where he began to open up more, including sparking headlines when he leveled criticism at US relay selection as well as Michael Andrew’s training.

Phelps is a former American swimmer who competed in five Olympics (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016). He is a 28-time Olympic medalist, with 23 golds to his resume. He is most known for his perfect Olympics in 2008 where he went 8-for-8 gold medals in Beijing. He holds the all-time record for Olympic gold medals. 

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Cate
8 months ago

I disagree with Phelps that athletes should be role models. Their responsibility is to train hard and do their best in their particular sport, remembering their service is to the paying public, not to be our mother.

The problem with Joker is that he lied on his visa application, thinks the rules don’t apply to him, and has put others at risk. I would love to see the reaction of the Australian crowd to him. The same crowd who are required to be vaxxed to get into the tournament grounds.

Cate
8 months ago

He pretty much said he didn’t know. My impression is that to him this is a work in progress which is what I think too. I honestly don’t know how I feel. To say that a transgender female doesn’t have an advantage is biologically inaccurate. What to do? I’m truly not sure.

If you Google Michael Phelps, it will bring up the CNN story and your link should play.

Dr Deluxe
8 months ago

As good as MP has been with mental health issues, this interview was really a waste of time with no direction and it was SAFE! Remember, he is a corporate entity with a professional team of support personnel to maintain his image. He probably had a PR/Marketing machine review the questions before the interview and was coached by someone on how to answer.
You want someone to give you an answer about Covid and vaccinations? Ask someone that has spent almost 40 years studying what a virus can do and and is instrumental in major research for vaccines….NC State swim alum, Dr Ralph Baric . That would make sense !
As far as his soft response to the… Read more »

Xman
8 months ago

That when he competed it was never a equal playing curled bc of doping and we need a doping free sport.

HJones
Reply to  Xman
8 months ago

With how much Phelps talks about doping with regards to the playing field he had to compete against, I feel like he knows of someone specific that he had to race against and what they were doing. Of course, he’ll likely never share, but it makes you think for sure.

Sun Yang= Connor Dwyer=Pernille Blume
Reply to  Xman
8 months ago

Bro. All elite athletes are juiced.

They’re all trolling the media. Lol 😂

TUEs are in the blood amigo

swimapologist

Agree. I would like to live in a world where all TUEs were public. I don’t really take any athletes seriously in their doping complaints until they reveal their TUEs.

The sanctamonious in most western countries, like the US, love to talk about the times someone messed up their TUE paperwork, or accidentally took something, but they don’t like to talk about Caeleb Dressel’s 8 TUEs that allow him a waiver to dope.

Beverly Drangus
Reply to  swimapologist
8 months ago

Where can we find more info about Dressel’s TUEs? Tried google.

HJones
Reply to  Beverly Drangus
8 months ago

I believe some information was in the FancyBears leaks, which have been completely scrubbed from the internet.

Admin
Reply to  HJones
8 months ago

FancyBears leaks have been mostly scrubbed from the internet…but as is almost always the case, not completely.

HJones
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

By the last part of your sentence, I assume that SwimSwam either has copies of these documents, or has seen what was leaked and is aware of which swimmers were listed to have TUEs from the data leaks outside of the names that made the news.

Last edited 8 months ago by HJones
Admin
Reply to  HJones
8 months ago

That’s correct. Archives of the FancyBear pages are not hard to find by most avid internet users.

The FancyBear data has never been verified, however.

Xman
Reply to  swimapologist
8 months ago

Makes me wonder how much these TUE cost, and how nothing has leaked in today’s climate of hacks whistleblowers and journalists who like to express corruption.

Admin
Reply to  Xman
8 months ago

TUEs are not expensive. Just a small application fee and a prescription from your doctor.

It has leaked. Fancy Bear leaked it. Everyone basically ignored it on the basis of “medical privacy.”

There was a story in the Houston Chronicle many years ago about a local club swim team where basically everyone had an inhaler. Parents would shop around and go to multiple doctors until they could find one who would prescribe their kid the right inhaler.

I think maybe that culture is not common, but, most elite athletes have TUEs for something.

Here’s an interesting article: https://www.popsci.com/winter-olympics-asthma/

Xman
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

I’m talking bribes to allow get stuff through that shouldn’t be…

Admin
Reply to  Xman
8 months ago

There would be no reason to bribe a sports official for a TUE. They’re not hard to get. If you were going to bribe anyone, it would be a doctor, the cost of which would depend on where you are in the world – but there are so many banned substances that are very commonly prescribed, that it’s really not hard to find a doctor to sign off on them.

SoBuoyantSoSlow
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

What does TUE stand for? Sorry if the answer is in this article – I am not finding it, and googling just those letters is getting me completely useless answers.

Admin
Reply to  SoBuoyantSoSlow
8 months ago

Therapeutic Use Exemption. It’s basically a doctor’s note for allowing athletes to use banned substances.

SoBuoyantSoSlow
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

thanks!

anonymous
Reply to  swimapologist
8 months ago

Didn’t he have a motorcycle accident that resulted in injury. Just in the normal treatment of the injuries he would have been prescribed banned substances that required TUE’s.

Xman

Yeah I’m pretty sure most people are used to some degree, it might not anabolic testosterone or high but People are definitely taking more than a protein powder and creatine to recover from the tripe of training and competing they do.

My personal take on the topic is similar to Malcolm Gladwell, I don’t see a problem with it except I do feel that Influencing teenagers and even people in their early 20s to take it when their bodies naturally produce high levels of test and high is bad.

https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/out-loud/malcolm-gladwell-and-ben-mcgrath-on-doping-in-sports

HJones
Reply to  Xman
8 months ago

FYI, USADA/WADA TUEs for testosterone are extremely difficult to obtain–you need one of a few specific physiological conditions that cause hypogonadism, not something like low T from overtraining, poor nutrition, or past AAS abuse. Though it’s shocking to me how prevalent things like pro-hormones and some AAS were being used in the sports scene of the high schools I went to (football, baseball, and lacrosse were the biggest abusers, but there were a handful of swimmers known to be using them as well).

Last edited 8 months ago by HJones
Xman
Reply to  HJones
8 months ago

We had one guy who would use pro hormones the month of the taper meet. Then another guy started using them.

They would combine them with some kind of supplement for liver health. Pretty sure they were guessing based off something they read online.

I didn’t see a side effect risk of this worth it enough to finisher higher in our little d2 conference.

HJones
Reply to  Xman
8 months ago

You made the correct choice. Prohormones have been marketed as “giving you all the benefits of actual AAS, but without the side effect profile”, yet ironically, their anabolic and strength gains are much weaker than actual AAS but have as bad (if not sometimes worse) of a side effect profile–they’ll destroy your liver without some kind of pharma-grade liver support.

Hiswimcoach
8 months ago

Michael Phelps thought he was going to die from COVID? Sounds absurd on the surface level.

Girls Mom
Reply to  Hiswimcoach
8 months ago

I had Covid-19 and I almost died if my daughter didn’t take me to ER because I tried self-medicating for 10 days. Right after she arrived from Abu Dhabi, she took me in. So, I can relate to what he went through with Covid-19. Covid is not a joke. Once you’ve been through it, you’ll know it is deadly, if not attended to right away, even to the ones who are the healthiest.

anonymous
Reply to  Hiswimcoach
8 months ago

Low oxygen levels will make a person feel like they are going to die or cause death.

CollegeSwammer
8 months ago

He’s opening up a bit, but damn, this guy is very good at making sure to walk on that tightrope in an incredibly divided country.

It’s interesting hearing him talk about all of these things. His approach to Lia is pretty much the same as most of ours in the comment section: “I don’t know what the right answer is, but this may not be it”. We want Lia and other transgender athletes to be able to compete, we just…haven’t tried to figure out the most fair way to do so.

As far as Covid goes, he gave a very Aaron Rodgers-like answer. Agrees with “certain mandates”, danced around a bit, stated that Covid really sucks and is deadly, but… Read more »

Scotty P
8 months ago

Very artful responses from the great one.

However just once when an interviewer asks “How do you feel about (insert controversial topic here).” I would love to see the person being interviewed ask “Well how do you feel about it?”

I know that’s really not the point but it’d be nice to see.

Last edited 8 months ago by Scotty P
Eagleswim
Reply to  Scotty P
8 months ago

Would it? That would be bizarre to show up for a media interview and start turning the questions around in the interviewer.

Dave
8 months ago

So basically he spoke a lot of words, but didn’t actually say anything…

Girls Mom
Reply to  Dave
8 months ago

Darn if you do, darn if you don’t.

Michael spoke up, and he has one of the biggest voices in sports. He didn’t have to, but he did. He might have not spoken as controversial as some wanted him to, but he spoke his mind. No need to ridicule, whether you agree or not. Instead, appreciate it. It is a start, and it’s what we need right now to make positive changes in our sports; and in my opinion, this is huge!

His response was respectful and also direct to the point: “It has to be a level playing field!” Which is the true essence of sports competition. The point of sport is not to simply win but to win… Read more »