MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked men’s tennis player, acknowledged on Wednesday that a travel document he submitted to Australian border officials last week contained false information, as authorities in the country continued to investigate whether he should be deported.
Mr Djokovic also said he participated in an interview and photo session last month in his native Serbia even after he tested positive for the coronavirus, in clear violation of the country’s rules on infected people. Australian officials said they are looking into whether Mr Djokovic, who is not vaccinated, poses a public health risk.
The tennis star’s comments came in a statement posted on social media that said it aimed to “clear misinformation” about the weeks leading up to his arrival in Melbourne for the Australian Open. Australian border officials held him for several days before a federal judge ordered his release on Monday.
But Mr Djokovic’s statement did not fully resolve a host of questions surrounding his quest to stay in Australia and the pursuit of a Grand Slam record. Among them is exactly when he learned of his positive test result and how his travel documents falsely confirmed that he had not traveled internationally in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia.
The statement posted on Instagram, which Mr Djokovic said would be his last remarks about his ordeal in Australia, was released as the country’s immigration minister said he was still considering whether he would exercise his personal powers to revoke the player’s visa again. Immigration officials were also investigating inconsistencies in papers submitted by Mr Djokovic as he attempted to enter Australia last week with an exemption from the Covid-19 vaccine requirement.
Australian tennis officials granted this exemption based on what Mr Djokovic said was a Covid infection he had in mid-December. He had been criticized for photos on social media showing him on occasions at the same time he was supposed to be infected with the Corona virus.
Mr Djokovic said on Wednesday that he underwent a PCR test on December 16 after some people at a basketball game he attended two days earlier tested positive for the coronavirus. Although he had no symptoms, he also took a rapid antigen test “out of extreme caution,” he said, and the result came back negative.
On December 17, he said, while awaiting his PCR result, he attended a tennis event in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, where he presented prizes to the children. He said he took another rapid antigen test before attending the event, which came back negative, and that his PCR test only came back positive after it was over.
On December 18, he went ahead with an interview and photo shoot with French sports newspaper L’Equipe “to fulfill a long-term commitment,” he said.
“I felt compelled to go ahead and do the L’Equipe interview because I didn’t want to give up on the journalist, but I made sure I was socializing and wearing a mask only when my picture was taken,” said Mr Djokovic.
And he added, “As I returned home after the interview to isolate for the required period, after reflection, this was a miscalculation and I agree that I should have rescheduled this commitment.”
This was not the first time that Mr Djokovic had to apologize for the dismissive measures he took during the pandemic. In the middle of 2020, with the virus spreading in Europe and elsewhere, he held a tennis tournament, after which he and several others tested positive for the virus.
While Mr Djokovic said in his statement on Wednesday that he “did not receive notification of a positive PCR result” until December 17 – following the children’s event – documents he provided to Australian officials while trying to enter the country said the result had been returned the day before.
A copy of his medical certificate for a positive PCR test stated that the test was taken at 1:05 pm on December 16 and the positive result came back at 8:19 on the same day. In an affidavit filed with an Australian court, he said: “On December 16, 2021, I was tested and diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 (COVID).” It was not clear when exactly he learned of his alleged positive test.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said this week that had Mr Djokovic known he tested positive for coronavirus before attending the awards ceremony on December 17, he would have “clearly violated the rules” in Serbia.
Novak Djokovic vs Australia
She added that it required more information, saying: “I don’t know when he got the test result, when he read it.”
When asked what would happen if Mr Djokovic was found to have violated quarantine rules, she said the Serbian government would “deal with the matter”.
In his statement, Mr. Djokovic also addressed questions about the declaration he made in his visa papers that he had not traveled to any other country within the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia. The papers warn of serious penalties for false answers to the question.
His ad appeared to contradict social media posts showing him traveling between Spain and Serbia. On Wednesday, he said his agent made an “administrative error in checking the incorrect box.”
“This was a human error and certainly not intentional,” he said, adding that his team “provided additional information to the Australian government on Wednesday to clarify the matter.”
This means the saga is unlikely to be resolved quickly, with Immigration Minister Alex Hook indicating he needs more time to consider the new information before deciding whether to revoke Mr Djokovic’s visa again.
A spokesman for Mr. Hook said Mr. Djokovic’s lawyers had submitted “additional lengthy notes and supporting documents said to be related to the possible revocation of Mr. Djokovic’s visa”.
“Naturally, this affects the time frame for the decision,” he added.