Unvaccinated tennis star Djokovic tries to avert expulsion after Australia cancels visa again
Unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic on Friday asked an Australian court to block his expulsion from the Australian Open after the government canceled his visa for the second time due to covid-19 entry rules.
The government nevertheless ordered that he be returned to custody before deportation at 8 a.m. (2100 GMT Friday) on Saturday, albeit with permission to meet his lawyers at their office.
Djokovic’s legal team submitted their request for an injunction late at night, less than three hours after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used discretionary powers to revoke the visa.
The world champion in tennis, who bid for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam trophy to defend his Australian title, had been told on arrival on 5 January that his visa, granted on the basis of a medical exemption from a vaccination requirement for visitors, , was invalid.
The 34-year-old Serb spent several days in immigration prison, in a hotel that was also used for asylum seekers, before the decision was revoked for procedural reasons.
Hawke said on Friday that he had “exercised my power under section 133C (3) of the Migration Act to suspend the visa held by Novak Djokovic on grounds of health and good order, on the grounds that it was in the public interest to do so.”
Under Section 133C, Djokovic would not be able to secure a visa to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances.
Judge Anthony Kelly said the government had agreed not to deport Djokovic before the case was closed.
The player’s legal team said Hawke had claimed it would arouse anti-vaccination sentiment about letting Djokovic stay.
Although Djokovic has publicly opposed mandatory vaccination, he has not campaigned against vaccination in general, and his lawyers called Hawke’s decision “obviously irrational.” They said they hoped their challenge could be heard on Sunday, the day before the tournament starts.
The controversy has intensified a global debate over the rights of the unvaccinated and has become a tricky political issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he campaigns for an election to come in May.
While Morrison’s government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not escaped criticism for the seemingly inconsistent handling of Djokovic’s visa application.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the outcome of these sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said in a statement.
“This is what the Minister is doing when he takes this action today. Our strong border protection policy has kept Australians safe,” he said.
Djokovic was in the draw as the top seed and would face the Serb Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday in his opening match.
He looked relaxed and had been practicing services and returns with his entourage on an empty track in Melbourne Park earlier on Friday, resting from time to time to wipe sweat from his face.
Hawke said he had carefully considered information from Djokovic and Australian authorities, adding that the government was “firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in the context of the covid-19 pandemic”.
Australia has undergone some of the world’s longest locks, has a vaccination rate of 90% among adults and has seen a rampant Omicron outbreak bring in almost a million cases in the last two weeks.
“Not good for tennis, not good for Novak”
Greek world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas, speaking before Hawke’s decision, said Djokovic “played by his own rules” and made vaccinated players “look like idiots”.
British star Andy Murray told reporters at the Sydney Classic tournament that the situation “was not good for tennis, not good for the Australian Open, not good for Novak”.
An online survey by the media group News Corp showed that 83% advocated deportation for Djokovic.
“Scott Morrison made the rational decision to send home the rich tennis star after calculating the enormous political cost of giving him special treatment,” wrote David Crowe, political chief correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and Age.
Anti-waxxers have hailed Djokovic as a hero while his family and the Serbian government have portrayed him as a victim of persecution.
In Belgrade, some seemed resigned because Djokovic missed the tournament.
“He is a role model for all of us, but rules must be set,” Milan Majstorovic told Reuters TV. “I’m not sure how big a commitment there is from politics.”
Another passer-by, Ana Bojic, said: “He can either be vaccinated to remain world number one – or he can be stubborn and end his career.”
Djokovic’s case was not helped by an incorrect entry declaration, where a box was ticked that he had not traveled abroad during the two weeks before leaving for Australia.
In fact, he had traveled between Spain and Serbia.
Djokovic blamed his agent’s mistake and admitted that he should not have done an interview and photography for a French newspaper on December 18 when he was infected with covid-19.