MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic was reported to have returned to immigration detention on Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid deportation from Australia for not being vaccinated against COVID-19 was taken to a higher court.
A federal court hearing was scheduled for Sunday, a day before the top-ranked men’s tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion began defending his title at the first major tennis tournament of the year.
Police closed a lane behind the building where Djokovic’s lawyers are staying and two cars left the building on Saturday afternoon local time. In a TV clip, Djokovic was seen wearing a face mask in the back of a car near an immigration detention hotel.
The Australian Associated Press reported that Djokovic is back in detention. He spent four nights locked up in a hotel near downtown Melbourne before being released last Monday when he won a procedural appeal against the revocation of his first entry visa.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawk on Friday blocked the 34-year-old’s visa, which was originally revoked when he landed at Melbourne airport on January 5.
Deportation from Australia can result in a three-year ban on returning to the country, although this can be waived, depending on the circumstances.
Djokovic admitted that his travel permit was incorrect as he failed to indicate that he had been to several countries in the two weeks prior to his arrival in Australia.
But incorrect travel information is not the reason Hook decided that deporting Djokovic was in the public interest.
His lawyers presented documents in court on Saturday that revealed Hook had stated that “some view Djokovic as a mascot of a society with anti-vaccination sentiment.”
Australia is one of the most immunized populations in the world, with 89% of people aged 16 or over fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
But the minister said Djokovic’s presence in Australia could pose a risk to the health and safety of the Australian public. The minister said his presence “could backfire on vaccination efforts by others in Australia”.
The Department of Health advised that Djokovic had a “low” risk of transmitting COVID-19 and a “very low” risk of transmitting the disease at the Australian Open.
The minister cited comments made by Djokovic in April 2020, before the COVID-19 vaccine was available, as “opposing vaccination”.
Djokovic had “previously stated that he did not want someone to force him to take a vaccine” to compete in tournaments.
In the reasons for the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa, the minister wrote that the evidence “shows that he publicly expressed anti-vaccination sentiments”.
Djokovic’s lawyers say the minister has not cited any evidence that Djokovic’s presence in Australia could “reinforce anti-vaccination sentiment”.
Djokovic will be allowed out of his hotel reservation on Sunday to visit his lawyers’ offices for a video court session.
On Saturday, Judge David O’Callaghan suggested there should be a full judge rather than a single judge who will hear the case on Sunday. A full substitute is three or five judges.
Having a full seat means that any ruling will be less subject to appeal. The only avenue for appeal is to the Supreme Court and there will be no guarantee that that court will even agree to hear such an appeal.
Djokovic’s attorney Paul Holdenson opted for a full seat while Hook’s attorney Stephen Lloyd preferred a single judge.
Legal observers suspect Lloyd wants to keep the option open for another appeal to the federal court because he believes the minister can bring a stronger case without rushing to reach a ruling before Monday.
Chief Justice James Olsop will decide the number of judges to hear the case.
On Saturday, the case was filed from the Federal Circuit and Family Court to Federal Court. But the number of judges who will hear the case at 9:30 a.m. Sunday has yet to be determined.
Djokovic has won the last three tournaments in Australia, part of his total of 20 Grand Slam tournaments. He is linked to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer most often by a man in history.
In a social media post on Wednesday that represented his most comprehensive public comment yet on the episode, Djokovic blamed his agent for checking the wrong box on the form, calling it a “human error and certainly not intentional.”
In the same post, Djokovic said he went ahead to give an interview and take a photo with a French newspaper in Serbia despite knowing he tested positive for COVID-19 two days ago. Djokovic has been trying to use what he says is a positive test taken on December 16 to justify a medical exemption that would allow him to get around the vaccine demand on the grounds that he already has COVID-19.
In revoking Djokovic’s visa, Hook said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government was “strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Morrison himself welcomed Djokovic’s pending transfer. The incident has struck a nerve in Australia, particularly in Victoria, where locals have gone through hundreds of days of lockdown during the worst of the pandemic.
Australia is facing a massive rise in virus cases driven by a highly transmissible omicron variant. On Friday, the country reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in Victoria. Although many infected people do not get sick as in previous outbreaks, the increase still puts severe strain on the health system, with more than 4,400 people hospitalized. It also disrupted workplaces and supply chains.
“This pandemic has been very difficult for every Australian, but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods. … Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said. Friday. And that is what the minister is doing in taking this action today.”
Djokovic’s supporters in Serbia resent the cancellation of visas.
Everyone at the Australian Open – including players, support teams and spectators – should be vaccinated. Djokovic has not been vaccinated.
His exemption was approved by the state government of Victoria and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa for travel. But the Australian Border Force refused the exemption and canceled his visa when he arrived in the country.
Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before the judge reversed that decision. This provision allowed him to move freely around Australia and he exercised in Melbourne Park daily.
“The situation is not good for anyone,” said Andy Murray, three-time Grand Slam champion and five-time runner-up at the Australian Open. “Looks like it’s been put off for a very long time now.”
According to the Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to withdraw from the tournament before the first-day playing order is announced, No. 5 Andrei Rublev will move to Djokovic’s place in parentheses.
If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament following the release of Monday’s schedule, he will be replaced on the court by what is known as a “lucky loser” – a player who loses in a qualifying tournament but enters the main draw because another player is out before the competition has begun.
And if Djokovic plays in a match – or more – and is then told he can no longer play in the tournament, his next opponent will simply advance to the next round and there will be no substitute.
More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports