Sports

Djokovic acknowledges error on Australian travel declaration

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Novak Djokovic on Wednesday acknowledged that an Australian travel authorization form contained incorrect information, and also admitted an “error of judgment” in participating in an interview and taking a photo in Serbia last month after he tested positive for COVID-19.

In a statement posted on his social media accounts, the tennis star blamed “human error” by his support team for failing to announce that he had traveled in the two-week period before entering Australia.

Providing false information on the form could be grounds for deportation, the latest development in an saga over whether the athlete should be allowed to remain in Australia despite not being vaccinated. Initial news that Djokovic had been granted an exemption from strict vaccination rules to enter the country sparked outrage. The run-up to the Australian Open has since been overshadowed by the ensuing controversy.

Djokovic admitted the loopholes when he sought to clear up what he called “persistent misinformation” about his movements after being injured last month – although he did not elaborate on the errors he was referring to.

The statement was released as the No. 1 men’s tennis player was at Rod Laver Arena holding a practice session, his third on the main court of the tournament since his release from four nights in an immigration detention center..

The nine-time Australian Open champion and defending champion remains in limbo ahead of the first major tennis tournament in the world on Monday. The stakes are particularly high as he seeks to win the 21st singles title at the men’s Grand Slam.

His visa was revoked on arrival last week when his vaccination exemption was questioned, but he won a legal battle on procedural grounds that allowed him to remain in the country. He still faces the possibility of deportation – a decision entirely at the discretion of the Australian Minister of Immigration if it is deemed to be in the public interest for health and safety reasons.

Deportation could result in penalties of up to a three-year ban from entering Australia, a frightening prospect for a player who has won nearly half of his 20 Grand Slam titles here.

Court documents detailing Djokovic’s positive test have fueled speculation about the star player’s attendance of events in his native Serbia last month. Other questions were also raised about errors in his immigration application that could potentially lead to his visa being revoked.

In the application, Djokovic said he had not traveled in the 14 days prior to his trip to Australia, despite being seen in Spain and Serbia in that period.

In his statement, Djokovic called the latest comment “painful” and said he wanted it addressed in order to “reduce the broader concern in the community about my presence in Australia”.

The 34-year-old Serb said he underwent rapid tests that were negative and had no symptoms before getting his positive PCR result out of “a lot of caution” after attending a basketball game in Belgrade in December. .14.

He said he got the result in late December 17, and canceled all of his commitments except for a long-running interview with L’Equipe the next day.

“I felt compelled to move on…but I made sure I was social distancing and only wore a mask when my picture was taken,” Djokovic said.

A L’Equipe reporter who interviewed the athlete in the newspaper wrote that he and a cameraman were masked during the session – and kept their distance except for a brief moment when he said goodbye to Djokovic. The reporter said he tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday, and did not mention the photographer’s condition.

“As I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was a miscalculation,” Djokovic said.

At the time, Serbia asked those infected with COVID-19 to isolate them for at least 14 days. But Djokovic was seen just over a week after he tested positive on the streets of Belgrade, although he said he tested negative in between.

Meanwhile, Djokovic addressed the Australian travel ad by saying it was submitted by his support team and “my agent sincerely apologizes for the administrative error in checking the incorrect box”.

“This was human error and certainly not intentional,” he wrote. “My team has provided additional information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter.”

The decision could take some time – but there is time pressure since the draw to determine the brackets at the Australian Open is scheduled for Thursday.

Immigration Minister Alex Hook’s office released a statement saying that Djokovic’s legal team had submitted more documents and added: “It is natural that this affects the time frame for the decision.”

The dispute revolves around whether he has a valid exemption from the strict rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia since he recently recovered from COVID-19.

His exemption from competition was approved by the state government of Victoria and Tennis Australia, the tournament’s organiser. Apparently this allowed him to get a visa to travel.

But the Australian Border Force refused the waiver and canceled his visa on arrival before a federal judge overturned that decision. Government lawyers said the infection was only grounds for exemption in cases where the coronavirus had caused serious illness – although it was not clear why the visa was issued if that was the case.

The initial decision to allow him to compete sparked complaints that Djokovic was being treated special – and his subsequent visa revocation sparked allegations that he was being targeted once the issue became political. This saga is set against the backdrop of growing concern in Australia over the rise in cases of COVID-19 – And the government’s strategy to contain them.

Australia-based lawyer Greg Barnes, an experienced visa issues expert, told The Associated Press that the immigration minister has the “personal authority” to cancel a visa without the need to provide written notice or reasonable time to respond to Djokovic.

If Djokovic’s visa is revoked, his lawyer can return to court to apply for an injunction preventing him from forcing him to leave the country.

If the government instead decides to provide notice first, Barnes said it could give Djokovic up to nine days to respond.

“That might be a way to give Djokovic a chance in the tournament and then send him off at the end of that,” Barnes said.

Sydney-based immigration lawyer Simon Gaines said there was “a lot of nonsense” in the law and that the Immigration Department would take its time to make sure any visa cancellations were “proof of appeal”.

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This story has been updated to correct quotes from Djokovic’s statement. He said persistent misinformation, not ongoing misinformation; binding, not binding; My team, not the team. It was also updated to correct Serbia’s rules on isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 in December.

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McGurk reported from Canberra, Australia. Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed in Belgrade, Serbia, and Samuel Petrikin in Brussels.

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