Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic’s bid to play at the Australian Open – with a medical exemption to meet vaccination requirements – ended on Wednesday as government officials revoked his visa to enter the country.
Djokovic and his team were held at Melbourne airport for more than six hours by the Australian Border Force after they were informed they needed to leave immediately.
“Mr. Djokovic failed to provide proper evidence to meet the entry requirements into Australia,” Greg Hunt, the country’s health minister, told Australian television. “It is a matter for him if he wants to appeal but if the visa is cancelled. If done, someone will have to leave the country.”
If Djokovic is to be deported, it will not be until at least next week when the player appealed against the cancellation of his visa in an Australian court and a federal judge adjourned the hearing until Monday.
The judge was not impressed by a comment from Anthony Kelly Djokovic’s lawyer that a decision on his client’s Australian Open participation needed to be made by Tuesday for tournament scheduling purposes. “Tails won’t wag the dog here. If Tennis Australia decides to do what it wants to do to drive its enterprise, it will,” the judge said.
The Australian authorities’ decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa sparked Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaking on Instagram after Djokovic reached out on the phone.
“I told my Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him, and that our authorities are taking all measures to stop the harassment of the best tennis player in the world in the shortest possible time,” he said. “Serbia will fight for justice and truth, for Novak Djokovic, in accordance with all norms of international public law.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said people “try to run the deadline all the time,” but Djokovic had not obtained the medical exemptions required by rules requiring arrivals to receive two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine . He said it was not appropriate to discuss Djokovic’s medical history, but added that the government told the Australian Open organizers in late November that a diagnosis of Covid within six months of admission, and that players recovering from it, would be given Australia’s vaccinations. There will be no exemption from the requirements.
The story of Djokovic’s possible trip to Australia had been going on for months. 1 in the men’s world made it clear that he did not want to be vaccinated, while the organizers of the Australian Open and the local government insisted that national law required passengers to jab any non-vaccinated passengers. Player player will not be admitted.
But the situation changed rapidly during 24 hours. Djokovic tweeted on Tuesday that he was granted medical exemption to play in the tournament and pursue a 21st major title. Djokovic did not specify why he was granted a waiver, but organizers indicated the tournament had been signed in coordination with Victoria health authorities.
Mr Morrison said Australia’s entry requirements were well known, and suggested Djokovic had attracted additional scrutiny from border officials by posting publicly about his plans.
“When you make public statements to people — what they have and what they are going to do and what their claims are — they draw significant attention to themselves,” he said. “Anyone who does this—whether they’re a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player, a journalist, whoever does it—can expect to be asked more questions than others.”
In fact, it was only after Djokovic touched down that he learned that, despite receiving the green light from Tennis Australia and local authorities, the Australian Border Authority needed more documentation. During the tense wait that lasted more than six hours, Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic posted a selfie on Instagram with the caption, “Not the most typical trip Down Under.”
Djokovic could not be reached for comment.
“Anyone wishing to enter Australia must comply with our strict border requirements,” Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said. “While the Victorian Government and Tennis Australia may allow a non-vaccinated player to compete at the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth Government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border.”
It was not immediately clear whether Djokovic, 34, could renew his application to play when the tournament begins on January 17. Had he been eligible to participate, he would have been the automatic favorite to win a record 10th Australian Open and take his major title over Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the first time in his career. (Nadal is about to play the tournament.)
Although Djokovic thought that his displeasure had become clear overnight when he was in the middle of the air. The state of Victoria, where Melbourne is the capital, has spent much of the past 21 months under a strict lockdown and locals felt it was receiving special treatment.
Morrison said on Wednesday that Djokovic would need to “provide acceptable evidence that he could not be vaccinated for medical reasons” to enter the country, despite already being flagged by tennis and border officials.
“If that evidence is insufficient, he won’t be treated any differently and will go home on the next plane,” Morrison said. “There shouldn’t be any special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. none whatsoever.”
Djokovic, who contracted and recovered from Covid in the summer of 2020, was one of 26 players heading into the Australian Open to request a medical exemption. Tournament director Craig Tilly said only “a handful” had received one after a blind review by two independent commissions. “For tennis players, it was a process that goes above and beyond the experience of anyone coming to Australia.”
Tournament organizers had previously insisted that no one—players, coaches, staff or fans—will be admitted without vaccination. But this week, it appeared in reverse as a showdown between the Australian Open and the most successful male player in its history.
“Fair and independent protocols were established to assess medical exemption applications that will enable us to ensure that the Australian Open 2022 is safe and enjoyable for all,” Tilley said.
But Wednesday’s confusion and eventual denial, first reported by Australia’s The Age newspaper, stemmed from a lack of coordination on visas between local officials, the federal government and Djokovic’s team.
With so much scrutiny over the status of his vaccinations, Djokovic waited to travel to Australia later than most players, who were already on the field for practice events. Many expressed surprise that he was on his way.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” British doubles player Jamie Murray said after their match in the ATP Cup. “I think if it was me who hadn’t been vaccinated, I wouldn’t have been exempt.”
Write to Joshua Robinson at J[email protected] and Stuart Condy at [email protected]
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