Stuck in a dispute over his COVID-19 vaccination status, Novak Djokovic was confined to an immigrant detention hotel in Australia on Thursday as the world’s No. 1 male tennis player awaited a court ruling on whether he could later compete in the Australian Open. this month.
Djokovic, a vocal vaccine skeptic, traveled to Australia after the state of Victoria granted him an exception to the country’s strict vaccination rules. But when he arrived late on Wednesday night, the Australian Border Patrol rejected his release as invalid and banned him from entering the country.
A court hearing on his bid to prevent deportation was scheduled for Monday, while the 34-year-old Serbian and reigning Australian Open champion was forced to wait out in Melbourne in a secure hotel used by immigration to house asylum seekers and refugees. .
The tournament starts on January 17th.
Djokovic’s attempt to circumvent vaccination requirements so he can play caused an uproar and sparked accusations of special treatment in Australia, where people were locked up for months and subjected to severe travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic.
After his long-haul flight, Djokovic spent the night trying to convince authorities that he had the necessary documents, but to no avail.
“The rule is very clear,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “You need to have a medical certificate. He did not have a valid medical exception. We make a call at the border, and it applies there.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the athlete’s visa was revoked after border guards reviewed Djokovic’s medical release and considered the “honesty and evidence behind him.”
Although Djokovic has spoken out against vaccines, he has vehemently refused to say whether he has had any shots against the coronavirus, although it is widely believed that he would not seek an exemption if he were vaccinated.
U.S. District Judge Anthony Kelly adjourned Djokovic’s trial until Monday. A government lawyer agreed that the nine-time Australian Open champion and holder of 20 major titles should not be deported until then.
“I feel terrible since yesterday that they are keeping him in custody. It’s not fair. It’s not human. I hope he wins,” Djokovic’s mother Diana said after a short phone call from Belgrade.
She added: “Terrible, terrible accommodation. This is just a small immigration hotel, if it is a hotel at all.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said he had spoken to Djokovic and that his government had asked for permission for the athlete to move into his rented house and “not be in that infamous hotel.”
He added that Djokovic was treated differently from other players.
“I’m afraid this overkill will continue,” Vucic said. “When you can’t beat someone, then you do things like that.”
Asked about the confusion in the Djokovic case, Morrison said it was the traveler’s responsibility to get the proper paperwork upon arrival.
The prime minister dismissed any suggestion that Djokovic had been singled out, but acknowledged that other players could be in Australia with the same medical exemption.
“One of the things the border forces do is they act on intelligence to draw attention to potential arrivals,” he said. “When people make public statements about what they say they have and what they’re going to do, they get a lot of attention.”
He said that anyone who does, “whether it’s a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player… he can expect to be asked more questions than anyone else before you come.”
Medical exemption applications from players, their teams and tournament officials have been reviewed by two independent expert panels.
Critics have questioned what grounds Djokovic might have had for exclusion, while supporters have argued that he has the right to privacy and freedom of choice.
Many Australians who have struggled to get COVID-19 tests or have been forced into lockdown have faced a double standard.
Tensions have risen amid another surge of COVID-19 in the country. The state of Victoria on Thursday recorded six deaths and nearly 22,000 new cases, the biggest single-day jump in cases since the pandemic began.
Australian Open director Craig Tiley on Wednesday defended a “completely legal bid and process” and insisted Djokovic was not given special treatment.
Twenty-six people associated with the tournament applied for medical exemption, and according to Tylie, only a “handful” were granted such permission. None of them have been publicly identified
Acceptable reasons for exclusion include serious illness and serious reactions to a previous dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
It has also been widely reported that evidence of exposure to COVID-19 within the previous six months is grounds for exclusion, but this appears to be a point of contention between federal and state authorities.
Djokovic tested positive for the coronavirus in June 2020 after playing in a series of exhibition matches he organized without social distancing amid the pandemic.
Associated Press journalist Dusan Stojanovic from Belgrade, Serbia and AP Sports journalist Dennis Passa from Brisbane, Australia contributed to this report.