MELBOURNE, Australia — In a court filing on Saturday, lawyers for Novak Djokovic said the tennis star had tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-December, and that the Australian government had erred this week in canceling his visa over a vaccine requirement.
Mr. Djokovic, who hopes to defend his men’s singles title at the Australian Open this month, was denied permission to enter the country on Thursday after arriving at a Melbourne airport. The border authorities said they canceled his visa because he had not provided evidence to justify being exempted from Australia’s requirement that arrivals be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
In the filing on Saturday, Mr. Djokovic’s lawyers said he had been granted a vaccine exemption by Tennis Australia because of a positive Dec. 16 coronavirus test result, and because 14 days later, he had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms in 72 hours.
The conditions of the exemption were consistent with the recommendations of Australia’s immunization advisory body, the lawyers argued. Given these circumstances, among others, “Mr. Djokovic understood that he was entitled to enter Australia,” the filing read.
Mr. Djokovic, a vaccine skeptic, is in quarantine at a hotel in Melbourne as he awaits a hearing, scheduled for Monday, on his appeal of the government’s decision to revoke his visa.
The Novak Djokovic Standoff with Australia
He declared in June 2020 that he had tested positive for coronavirus with his wife, but it had not been disclosed about his December infection.
Mr. Djokovic’s lawyers argue that the Australian authorities, in canceling his visa, “radically and fundamentally” misconstrued or misapplied advice from Australia’s immunization advisory body about whether a coronavirus infection within the past six months should exempt him from the vaccination requirement.
The filing also claims Mr. Djokovic was denied procedural justice after arriving in Australia. He was detained at the airport by immigration authorities from approximately midnight to 8:am.
His lawyers claim that Djokovic was initially told in an immigration interview that a decision on his visa would be made at 8:30 a.m. They claim that he was forced to agree to an immediate decision at 6 a.m. He relented, “feeling he had no choice,” and was notified at 7:42 a.m. that his visa had been canceled, according to the filing.
The Australian Border Force declined comment due to the pending court hearing. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that the revocation of Mr. Djokovic’s visa was “simply a matter of following the rules.”
If Mr. Djokovic’s appeal fails, he could be barred from entering Australia for three years, under rules applicable to people whose visas are canceled.
Separately the Australian Border Force said Saturday night that it had discovered that two people connected to the tennis tournament, whom it was investigating, had fled the country.
“The Australian Border Force (ABF) investigation into the visa status of two other individuals connected to the Australian Open has concluded,” it said in an emailed statement. “The ABF can confirm both individuals have now voluntarily departed Australia.”
Although the statement did not identify the two individuals involved, local media had reported the investigation a few days prior.
On Friday, the Czech foreign ministry confirmed in a statement that a Czech player, Renata Voracova, had been placed in the same detention as Mr. Djokovic, along “with several other tennis players.” She had “proven noninfectious status in a way that entitles her to participate in the tournament,” and had already played at a warm-up event, the statement said, but had “decided to give up further participation in the tournament and leave Australia due to the limited possibility of training.”
The Australia Broadcasting Corporation also reported a European tennis official who had fled the country in similar circumstances.
Source: NY Times