MELBOURNE, 6 Jan 2022:
World number one men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic was awaiting a legal challenge today against his deportation from Australia – after his entry visa was cancelled for not meeting entry requirements.
Djokovic arrived in Melbourne from Dubai last night after announcing he had been granted a medical exemption from vaccination that would allow him to defend his Australian Open title. He is now awaiting deportation in a quarantine hotel.
In a brief Federal Circuit Court hearing in Melbourne, his lawyers said they were advised by Tennis Australia that they would need a definitive answer for scheduling purposes by Tuesday, while a transfer to a hotel with “tennis practising facilities” was discussed, as well as whether the matter would be resolved before the start of the Australian Open on Jan 17, national broadcaster ABC reported.
There could be an interim decision later tonight, before further hearings on Monday morning, it added.
At this morning’s press conference in Canberra, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said that “on the issue of Mr Djokovic, rules are rules, and there are no special cases”.
“It is not appropriate for me to go into Mr Djokovic’s own medical history. (…) But all I can say is that the evidence [for] medical exemption that was provided was found to be insufficient,” Morrison said, stressing that border control rules are clear and non-discriminatory.
The Australian Border Force had said Djokovic “failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled”.
“The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements,” it added. “Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia.”
The player was held for several hours at Melbourne airport before his transfer to the quarantine hotel where supporters have gathered, holding placards and dancing.
Vaccination is mandatory to enter Australia, but there are a handful of reasons that an exemption can be granted, including an acute major medical condition such as undergoing a major surgery, a serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, or evidence of infection confirmed by PCR test in the previous six months.
Djokovic has repeatedly refused to publicly state whether he is inoculated against the coronavirus, but said last year that he is personally opposed to vaccinations in general and is against vaccine mandates.
Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said he had spoken to the player.
“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately,” he said. “In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice.”
The decision means Djokovic will not be able to compete in this month’s Australian Open, a Grand Slam tournament held annually in Melbourne that he has won a record nine times.
The move also could have historical ramifications, considering that the Serbian is tied with fellow tennis greats Roger Federer (who is not playing the Australian Open) and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam singles titles each. If Djokovic won a 10th championship Down Under, he would set a record 21 title wins to become the most successful men’s tennis player in history.
If Djokovic does not play the Australian Open, it will mark the first time he has missed that Grand Slam tournament since he made his debut there in 2005.
Tennis Australia, which organises the event, said Djokovic’s exemption was the result of a rigorous process carried out by two independent panels of medical experts and was in line with government guidelines.
His arrival caused outrage among Australians who have not been able to leave the country for more than 18 months and have experienced long months of quarantine.
Australia has implemented some of the toughest measures in the world against the pandemic, while Melbourne has spent lengthy periods in strict lockdown.
The country has seen an omicron variant-driven surge in confirmed Covid-19 cases in the weeks prior to the start of this year’s tournament, with cases nearly tripling from around 212,000 accumulated cases on Dec 1 to more than 610,000 this week.