Tennis star Djokovic wins court battle to stay in Australia

  • Judge considers cancellation of Djokovic visa “unreasonable”
  • The Minister of Immigration could still exercise the power to revoke a visa
  • Djokovic had requested a medical exemption from the vaccine obligation
  • Serbian official player concerned could still be sent off
  • Drama comes as COVID-19 cases in Australia surpass 1 million

MELBOURNE, Jan.10 (Reuters) – World tennis number one Novak Djokovic was released from Australian immigrant detention on Monday after winning a court challenge to stay in the country, but the government said it was considering always another measure to expel him.

Judge Anthony Kelly ruled that the federal government’s decision last week to revoke the Serbian tennis star’s visa amid a row over his medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination requirements was “unreasonable” and has ordered his release.

Djokovic, who arrived in Australia last week in search of a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title at the upcoming Australian Open, spent the day in his law firm and did not immediately appear in public or made a statement after the decision.

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There were chaotic scenes Monday night as supporters gathered outside the attorneys office chanting “Free Novak!” swept around a black Audi with tinted windows exiting the building, while police at one point used pepper spray as they attempted to force their way through. Read more

It was not clear if Djokovic was in the vehicle, although police later told reporters outside that he was gone. His family was due to hold a press conference in Belgrade later.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said he was considering using his personal power to revoke Djokovic’s visa again.

“The minister is currently reviewing the matter and the process is continuing,” the spokesperson said.

The controversy was followed closely around the world, creating diplomatic tensions between Belgrade and Canberra and sparking a heated debate over national vaccination rules.

Serbian parliament speaker Ivica Dacic said he feared Hawke could still expel Djokovic, a move that would prevent the 34-year-old from leaving the country for three years.

“The process should have ended when the court ruled on the case,” Dacic, a former foreign minister, told Happy TV in Serbia. “It defies common sense.”

COURT ‘CIRCUS’

Spanish rival Rafa Nadal called the drama surrounding the preparation for the tournament, which begins on January 17, a “circus”.

“Whether or not I agree with Djokovic on certain things, justice has spoken and said he has the right to participate in the Australian Open and I think it is the fairest decision of do it, “Nadal told Spanish radio Onda Cero.

A supporter of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic holds his picture during a rally outside the Park Hotel, where the star athlete is reportedly being held while in Australia, in Melbourne, Australia on January 9, 2022. REUTERS / Loren Elliott

The case has generated huge global interest, but authorities’ efforts to let the media and the public follow events in court have at times turned into a farce as pranksters hijack internet links to stream loud music and music. porn.

Judge Kelly said he overturned the decision to block Djokovic’s entry into Australia because the player did not have enough time to speak to tennis organizers and lawyers to fully respond after being told of intend to cancel their visa.

Officials at Melbourne airport, where Djokovic was arrested on his arrival on Wednesday evening, reneged on their agreement to give Djokovic until 8:30 a.m. to speak to the Tennis Australia tournament organizer and lawyers, the judge said. .

Instead, Djokovic was woken up by officials around 6 a.m. after a brief rest and said he felt compelled to respond. The player, a long-time opponent of compulsory vaccination, told border officials he was not vaccinated and had had COVID-19 twice, according to a transcript of the interview.

MEDICAL EXEMPTION

Kelly told the court earlier that it appeared Djokovic had requested and received the required medical exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination on the grounds that he contracted the virus last month. He had presented proof of this before heading to Melbourne and when he landed on Wednesday evening.

“What more could this man have done?” Kelly said.

Kelly’s decision did not directly address whether the exemption based on infection in the past six months was valid, which the government had contested.

Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said earlier his organization had held talks with federal and state officials for months to ensure the safe passage of players. Tennis Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Although news of the decision was greeted with drums and dances by a group of around 50 supporters, many of them draped in the Serbian flag, outside the Melbourne court, public opinion wider in Australia, where more than 90% of the adult population is doubly vaccinated, was largely against the player.

Emotions were especially high in Melbourne, which experienced the longest cumulative lockdown in the world.

COVID-19 cases in the country topped one million on Monday, more than half of which were recorded last week, spiking hospitalizations, straining supply chains and overloading testing facilities .

The saga began when Djokovic posted a photo of himself leaning on his luggage on Instagram last Tuesday, telling the world he was traveling to Australia to compete in the Open with a vaccination exemption.

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Reporting by Sonali Paul and Ian Ransom, additional reporting by Byron Kaye, Cordelia Hsu, Loren Elliott and John Mair; Writing by Jane Wardell and Alex Richardson; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Hugh Lawson

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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