Novak Djokovic’s Fight to Stay in Australia Lives Another Day

Novak Djokovic, the world’s best male tennis player, was arrested by Australian border officials on Saturday, the latest twist in a legal dispute over his travel visa that has sparked worldwide interest and stoked tensions during of a rapidly spreading coronavirus epidemic.

Australia’s immigration minister revoked Djokovic’s travel visa for the second time on Friday amid fears Djokovic may have breached the country’s rules aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, arguing his high-profile status could harm the nation’s battle against the coronavirus.

The case could be resolved in a courtroom showdown at 9:30 a.m. local time on Sunday. If the decision to rescind the visa is upheld, Djokovic, 34, could be kicked out of the Australian Open tennis tournament and expelled, a stunning development if it were to play out this way. Then again, if the court rules in Djokovic’s favor and allows him to stay, that would be equally shocking to many who feel the player has already received preferential treatment.

Both sides are expected to submit legal documents setting out their case in court on Saturday after Djokovic was ordered to attend the hearing remotely via video from his attorney’s offices.

Djokovic’s legal team requested that a full panel of judges hear the case rather than just one judge, which would mean the court’s decision on the matter could not be appealed. Judge David O’Callaghan said he would advise the parties later on Saturday of his decision on the matter.

Djokovic was appealing the most recent ruling in a case that highlighted the global challenge of balancing the fight against coronavirus and a return to so-called normal life, amid a whirlwind of political ramifications.

The case has caused outrage in Australia and beyond. Djokovic, who refuses to get vaccinated, has long had unorthodox and unscientific views on health. Many see the visa controversy as his underhanded attempt to leverage his status as an elite sporting star to flout the rules followed by ordinary Australians and others who travel there. The law states that anyone entering the country must be vaccinated against the coronavirus, unless they have a medical exemption.

In Serbia, Djokovic’s home country, and elsewhere, the ongoing incident is seen by some as an unfair attempt to prevent him from winning a record 21st Grand Slam by defending his Australian Open title. , which begins on Monday. Earlier in the week, his supporters clashed with police in Melbourne.

In a statement explaining why he revoked Djokovic’s visa for a second time, Alex Hawke, Australia’s immigration minister, argued that if Djokovic was allowed to stay in Australia and play, the influential tennis star could harm people. virus control efforts. The government has acknowledged that Djokovic poses no imminent threat of spreading the disease. Rather, it is the example he would set by allowing him to stay.

“Given Mr. Djokovic’s high-profile status and position as a role model in the sporting and wider community,” Hawke said in a statement, “his continued presence in Australia may foster a similar disregard for precautionary requirements. after receiving a Covid-19 test in Australia.

Djokovic’s lawyers argue that the government unfairly based its decision to revoke his visa again on the premise that Djokovic would engender anti-vaccine sentiments and not on the rule of law.

This all comes amid a spike in coronavirus cases around the world, and particularly in Australia, which has endured lengthy lockdowns and restrictions. Initially, sentiment in Australia seemed to support Djokovic as he came to Melbourne under the impression that he had a legal exemption. But as more and more information emerged, including false claims and Djokovic’s cavalier approach after testing positive in December, the mood largely turned against him.

Djokovic initially received an exemption from the federal requirement that anyone entering Australia must be vaccinated against the coronavirus in order for him to play at the Australian Open. It was granted on the basis of a positive test he took in Serbia on December 16. But shortly after arriving at Melbourne Airport on January 5, he was arrested by federal authorities and sent to a hotel for refugees and asylum seekers.

A judge quickly overturned the detention order on procedural grounds, saying Djokovic had not had a fair opportunity to consult with representatives and allies, such as tournament organizers. He was cleared to leave detention and head to the training grounds and prepare to compete for what would be his fourth consecutive Australian Open title and record 10th overall.

But an investigation found irregularities and misrepresentations in Djokovic’s visa application – which Djokovic later acknowledged and apologized for on Wednesday. The documents did not indicate that Djokovic, who lives in Monte Carlo, had traveled between Serbia and Spain in the 14 days before arriving in Australia. Djokovic attributed the mistake to human oversight by one of his handlers.

The Australian government has also expressed concern that on December 18, a day after Djokovic learned he had tested positive, he hosted journalists at his tennis center in Belgrade for an interview and session. photo, without informing them. These revelations led to the second visa revocation on Friday.

Some skeptics have wondered if Djokovic’s positive test was faked to help him get the exemption. On Friday, Serbian coronavirus crisis team member Zoran Gojkovic said the player’s positive test result was valid. He added that Djokovic had not violated any Serbian law, especially since the state of emergency was lifted last month.

Djokovic is in a distinct minority among other players on the ATP Tour. More than 90 per cent have been vaccinated, the leading men’s sports organization reports, and most enjoy much greater ease of movement.

In 2022, the tour does not require vaccinated players to take more than an initial test after arriving at a tournament, unless they develop symptoms. Unvaccinated players and team members will need to be tested regularly.

The Australian Open draw is already complete with Djokovic being the number one seed and set to face Miomir Kekmanovic in the first round. If Djokovic is forced to withdraw after the fixture schedule is published on Sunday, he will be replaced by a so-called lucky loser – a player who lost in the qualifying rounds.

“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Rafael Nadal, who has also won 20 Grand Slam titles, said on Saturday. “If he finally plays, OK. If he doesn’t play, the Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him.”

But Hall of Fame player and analyst Martina Navratilova told Australia’s Sunrise TV show that Djokovic would have to step down on his own to end the drama. “It’s just the right thing to do,” she said, “but I don’t think he’s going to do it because he wants that 21st title.”

Many gamers felt tired during the saga, lamenting the distraction from real sport. But Alex de Minaur, a No. 34-ranked Australian player, expressed his compassion for a nation struggling with the pandemic.

“Listen, Aussies have been through a lot,” he said. “There is no secret about it. They had a lot of trouble. They have done a lot of work to protect themselves and their borders.

He added: “If you wanted to enter the country, you had to be double vaccinated. It was up to him, his choices, his judgment.

In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic has accused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has come under fire for his handling of the pandemic ahead of the election, of unfairly targeting Djokovic, who is a national hero. The president said the Australian government had not only disrespected Djokovic, but all of Serbia.

“If you wanted to ban Novak Djokovic from winning the 10th trophy in Melbourne, why didn’t you send him away immediately? Why didn’t you tell him, ‘It’s impossible to get a visa?’ Vucic said, adding, “Why are you mistreating him? Why are you attacking not only him but also his family and the whole nation?

Damian’s Cave, Yan Zhuang, Christopher Clarey, Matthew Futterman, Marc Santora, Austin Ramzy and Ben Rothenberg contributed report.

Leave a Comment