Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for the second time, the latest twist in the ongoing saga over whether the No.1-ranked tennis player will be allowed to participate in the Australian Open although he has not been vaccinated for COVID-19.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said on Friday he had used his discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serbian’s visa on public policy grounds – just three days before play started at the Open Australia, where Djokovic won a record nine of his 20 Grand Slam Titles.
Three hours later, Djokovic’s lawyers began their appeal against the visa cancellation in an after-hours hearing at the Federal Circuit and Family Court. The same judge, Anthony Kelly, ruled in Djokovic’s favor earlier this week on procedural grounds after his visa was first canceled when he landed at a Melbourne airport.
Djokovic’s attorney Nick Wood told Kelly he was hopeful that an appeal would be heard on Sunday and that Djokovic would have his visa in time for him to play on Monday, when the first half of the draw is due to end. argue.
Djokovic remains free on Friday night, but would effectively return to migrant detention when he meets with Australian border forces officials at 8 a.m. Saturday (4 p.m. ET Friday).
He would spend the morning in the offices of his lawyers in border forces custody and return to hotel detention on Saturday afternoon.
Deportation from Australia may result in a three-year ban on leaving the country, although this may be lifted, depending on the circumstances.
Hawke said he canceled the visa for “reasons of health and good order, on the grounds that it was in the public interest to do so.” His statement added that the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Djokovic’s main ground for appealing Hawke’s decision was that it was not based on the health risk the tennis champion might pose by not being vaccinated, but on how he might be. perceived by anti-vaccines.
“The minister only considers the potential for an exciting anti-vax sentiment if it is present,” said Wood.
Hawke’s reasons do not take into account the potential impact on Djokovic’s anti-vaccine being forcibly removed, Wood said.
“The minister is completely ignoring the effect this might have on anti-vax sentiment and even public order,” Wood said. “It sounds blatantly irrational.”
Morrison hailed Djokovic’s impending expulsion. The whole episode hit a sore spot in Australia, particularly in the state of Victoria, where residents have gone through hundreds of days of containment at the worst of the pandemic and where the vaccination rate among adults is greater than 90%.
Australia is facing a massive increase in coronavirus cases due to the highly transmissible variant of omicron. The country reported 130,000 new cases on Friday, including nearly 35,000 in Victoria state. Although many infected people do not get as sick as in previous outbreaks, the outbreak continues to strain the health care system, with more than 4,400 people hospitalized. It also disrupts workplaces and supply chains.
“This pandemic has been incredibly 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 that the outcome of those sacrifices be protected, ”Morrison said. in a report. “This is what the minister is doing by taking this step today.
Everyone at the Australian Open, including players, their support teams and spectators, must be vaccinated against COVID-19. Djokovic is not vaccinated and had requested a medical waiver on the grounds that he had COVID-19 in December.
This exemption has been approved by the state government of Victoria and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa to travel. But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa when he landed in Melbourne on January 5.
Djokovic spent four nights in a migrant detention hotel before a judge overturned the ruling on Monday. The move allowed Djokovic to roam freely in Australia, and he has trained daily in Melbourne Park to prepare for playing in a tournament he has won each of the past three years.
Organizers of the Australian Open have announced that the top half of the men’s and women’s draws will be played on Monday. This means that the number one seed Djokovic is expected to play on day one of the tournament.
He had scheduled a Friday afternoon practice session at Rod Laver Arena, the tournament’s main stadium, but pushed it back to the morning and ended several hours before Hawke’s decision was made. announced in the early evening.
After the visa was canceled, the media began to gather in front of the building where Djokovic is said to have met his lawyers.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Open said tournament organizers had no immediate comment on the latest development in Djokovic’s situation, which eclipsed all other scenarios ahead of the first Grand Slam event of the ‘year.
“It’s not a good situation for anyone,” said Andy Murray, three-time Grand Slam champion and five-time runner-up at the Australian Open. “I just want this fixed. I think it would be good for everyone if it did. It just seems like it’s been dragging on for quite a long time now – not great for tennis, not great for the Open d ‘Australia, not great for Novak. “
World number 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, speaking ahead of Hawke’s decision, said Djokovic “was playing by his own rules” and making vaccinated players look “like fools”.
Tennis Australia said nine players will hold press conferences ahead of the tournament on Saturday, and Djokovic’s name was not on the list.
Andy Murray says the ongoing controversy over Novak Djokovic’s visas is not good for the Australian Open.
With his legal situation in limbo, Djokovic was placed in the tournament bracket in Thursday’s draw, set to face Miomir Kecmanovic in an all-Serbian clash in the first round.
Under Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to withdraw from the tournament before the day one is announced, seeded No.5 Andrey Rublev would take Djokovic’s place in the squad and face off against Kecmanovic.
If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule was released, he would be replaced on the pitch by what is known as a “lucky loser” – a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but enters the main draw due to the exit of another player before the competition has started.
And if Djokovic plays in a match and then is told that he can no longer participate in the tournament, his next opponent will simply move on to the next round and there will be no replacement.
Melbourne-based immigration attorney Kian Bone said Djokovic’s lawyers faced an “extremely difficult” task of securing court orders over the weekend to allow their client to play the role. next week.
Speaking hours before Hawke’s decision was announced, Bone said: “If you left him later than he has now, I think strategically he Really cripples Djokovic’s legal team, in terms of the kinds of options or remedies he could get. “
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.