Novak Djokovic faces possible deportation from Australia after the country’s immigration minister revoked the tennis star’s unvaccinated visa for a second time on Friday, citing public health.
The decision is the latest development in a saga that has made global headlines and has become a hot spot in the debate over Covid-19 vaccination mandates. It could end the Serbian’s bid to win a record 21st title at the Australian Open, which begins on Monday.
Djokovic’s lawyers moved quickly to apply for an injunction preventing him from forcing him to leave the country. The Australian government was ordered to return to the immigration detention center at 8 a.m. local time on Saturday (4 p.m. ET on Friday), although he was allowed to meet with his lawyers in their offices.
In a court hearing hours after the decision was announced, which was viewed by nearly 60,000 people on YouTube, Judge Anthony Kelly said he would work to resolve the case as quickly as possible.
In a decision likely to have broad sporting and diplomatic ramifications, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said in a statement early Friday that he used his discretionary powers to revoke the visa “on the grounds that it was in the public interest to do so”.
Hook added that the government was “strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Kelly returned his visa to Djokovic, 34, earlier this week, and ordered his release after days in immigration detention.
The No. 1 men’s tennis player witnessed the visa revocation for the first time last week after border officials denied his claim for medical exemption when he arrived in Melbourne. But Djokovic won a legal appeal that allowed him to remain in the country and practice even with a threat of deportation over his head.
If Djokovic’s attempt to remain in Australia fails after this second cancellation, he may not be able to apply for a three-year visa.
NBC News has reached out to Djokovic’s representatives for comment.
Djokovic admitted on Wednesday that his travel form to arrive in Australia contained a false statement and that he failed to be immediately isolated after he tested positive for coronavirus in Serbia last month, adding to the scrutiny of Australian officials and global media.
The country’s strict border rules require that all non-Australian arrivals to enter the country be vaccinated. All Australian Open players, staff, officials and fans need to be fully vaccinated to enter the tournament venue.
Court filings earlier this week confirmed the tennis star is not immune, but Djokovic argued that he was given medical exemption to enter the country because he was diagnosed with Covid-19 in Serbia last month and has since recovered.
Djokovic spent four days in an immigration detention center among asylum seekers and illegal immigrants while he awaited a ruling on his visa appeal. Monday’s court ruling did not pass judgment on whether the reason for his medical exemption was valid.
Tournament organizers Djokovic entered the draw on Thursday as he remained in limbo, despite being postponed amid uncertainty.
The top seed continued to train at Rod Laver Arena as he sought to refocus on tennis and attempt to become the all-time leader in the men’s Grand Slam singles titles.
The saga around Djokovic has infuriated many Australians, as the omicron variant leads a new wave of cases in the country after months of severe restrictions on public movements.
The uproar has rocked the tennis world and cast a shadow over the run-up to the Australian Open, prompting the sport to center the global debate over government restrictions to fight the pandemic.
It also sparked strong support for Djokovic in his native Serbia, where his family and the country’s leaders have criticized Australia’s treatment of the national sport icon.