World

Djokovic free but Australia deportation threat still looms

  • Australian minister considering canceling Djokovic’s visa
  • Serbia and Australia leaders talking on the phone
  • Nadal rival says court ruling is ‘fairest decision’
  • Australian Kyrgios “embarrassed” by the treatment of the Serbian

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic swapped one court for another on Tuesday, firing a few practice strikes at Melbourne Park as he prepares to win his 21st major tennis title at the Australian Open next week.

A week after arriving in Australia, Djokovic finally made it to the District Court thanks to Monday’s court ruling overturning the previous federal government’s decision to revoke his visa.

However, the world number one is still at risk of arrest by the federal government for a second time and deportation. Immigration Minister Alex Hook’s office said it was still considering using its discretion to cancel Djokovic’s visa.

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“In line with legal process, Secretary Hook will look into the matter carefully,” a spokesperson said in an email. “As the issue continues, for legal reasons, it is inappropriate to provide further comment.”

Australia has a policy that prevents non-citizens or non-residents from entering unless they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Medical exemptions are allowed, but the government argued that the unvaccinated Djokovic did not provide an adequate justification for the exemption.

The court ruled that Djokovic had been treated unfairly by Border Force officials upon his arrival and ordered the cancellation of his visa cancellation. However, he did not address whether his exemption – based on Djokovic’s contract with COVID-19 last month – was in effect.

Djokovic’s plight has drawn international attention, created a political rift between Canberra and Belgrade and sparked heated debates over mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office said he spoke with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic on Monday and “made clear our non-discriminatory border policy”. According to Serbian media reports, Bernabic stressed the importance of Djokovic’s ability to prepare for the tournament. Both said they agreed to stay in touch on the issue.

Djokovic, who expressed his gratitude to the judge and his determination to compete in the first major of the year in Twitter Late Monday, he did not publicly address the situation on Tuesday.

He was photographed by local media helicopters as he trained at Rod Laver Arena, amid extraordinarily tight security in Melbourne Park.

Jon Alexander, a member of Morrison’s Liberal Party and a former professional tennis player, said the new decision to remove Djokovic would “lower” the standings of the Australian Open.

“We were once the poor cousin of the four juveniles,” he said. “We have a lot for us, but we need to handle it carefully.”

The ATP, the governing body for men’s tennis, applauded the court’s ruling, saying the dispute “is detrimental on all fronts, including Novak’s welfare and preparation for the Australian Open”.

Court dicision

A woman places a “Free Hugs” sign on a banner for Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic outside the Park Hotel, where the sports star is believed to be held during his stay in Australia, in Melbourne, Australia, January 7, 2022. REUTERS/SANDRA SANDERS

Border officials detained Djokovic when he landed at Melbourne airport late on Wednesday. Border officials said his visa was revoked because he failed to provide adequate evidence to meet entry requirements to Australia.

However, in overturning that decision, Judge Anthony Kelly criticized the hours-long airport interview and said the player had not been given enough time to contact lawyers and tennis officials to discuss his predicament.

Djokovic was granted a medical exemption by the Victorian state government based on evidence he had COVID-19 last month – the second time he has been infected. The player, who has long been against compulsory vaccination, confirmed during the interview that she was not vaccinated.

Some Australian media have reported that the Australian Border Force was investigating possible discrepancies in the traveler’s form that Djokovic provided and his whereabouts in the days before his arrival in Australia.

In the document submitted to the court, Djokovic marked “no” when asked that he had been abroad in the previous 14 days. However, social media posts apparently appeared in Belgrade on Christmas Day and in Spain on December 31.

The Australian Border Force did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Djokovic’s lawyers at Hall & Wilcox declined to comment.

Australian Open

The Australian Open starts on January 17th. Djokovic has won the tournament, one of the four Grand Slams of tennis, over the past three years and nine times in total.

Spaniard Rafa Nadal, tied in 20 major tournaments with Djokovic and Roger Federer, described the fraught preparations for the tournament as a “circus” and said the “fairest decision” had been made.

Nick Kyrgios said that while supporting vaccination he was “embarrassed as an Australian athlete seeing what this guy has done for us and the sport. I don’t think it’s right to deal with it”.

However, former US player-turned-critic Pam Shriver warned on Twitter that the controversy might not end: “If he plays the whistle he will be deafening.”

Public opinion in Australia, which is battling a wave of Omicron infections and where more than 90% of the adult population is vaccinated, has been largely against the player.

The resistance in Melbourne, home of the World Open, has been particularly vociferous after the city experienced the world’s longest cumulative lockdown.

“We’ve had to go through vaccination protocols and lockdowns for a long time and he’s walking around doing what he loves so much because he’s the best tennis player in the world,” Melbourne-based Keith Moore told Reuters.

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Writing by Jane Wardle; Editing by Richard Boleyn and Michael Perry

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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