Novak Djokovic, the top men’s tennis player in the world, was detained on Saturday by border authorities in Australia, the latest turn in a legal dispute over his travel visa that has drawn interest around the world and inflamed tensions during a rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.
The Australian minister for immigration revoked Djokovic’s travel visa for the second time on Friday because of concerns that Djokovic had violated the country’s rules intended to limit the spread of the virus, arguing that his high-profile status could harm the nation’s battle against the coronavirus.
The matter could be resolved in court on Sunday at 9:15 a.m. local. Djokovic could be forced to leave the Australian Open tennis tournament if the visa cancellation decision is upheld. This would be a dramatic development if it happens that way. However, Djokovic could be allowed to stay if the court rules in his favor. This would be shocking to many who feel he has been given preferential treatment.
Both sides are expected to submit legal papers laying out their arguments to the court on Saturday after Djokovic was ordered to attend the hearing remotely by video from his attorney’s offices.
Djokovic’s legal team asked that a full panel of judges hear the case rather than a single judge, which would mean the court’s decision on the matter could not be appealed. Justice David O’Callaghan said he would inform the parties later on Saturday of his decision on that question.
Djokovic appealed the latest ruling in a case that highlighted the global challenge of balancing a fight against the coronavirus with a return to normal life. This was amid a swirling of political ramifications.
The matter has caused outrage in Australia as well as elsewhere. Djokovic, who is refusing to be vaccinated has held unorthodox and unscientific views about health for a long time. Many believe that Djokovic is trying to use his status as an elite athlete to flout the rules for ordinary Australians and all others who travel to Australia. Unless they have a medical exemption, everyone entering the country must be vaccinated against coronavirus.
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 title at the Australian Open, which begins Monday. His supporters clashed in Melbourne earlier in the week with police.
In a statement explaining why he revoked Djokovic’s visa a second time, Alex Hawke, Australia’s minister for immigration, argued that if Djokovic were allowed to remain in Australia and play, the influential tennis star could harm efforts to combat the virus. Djokovic does not pose an imminent threat to spread disease, according the government. It’s more about the example it sets by allowing Djokovic to remain.
“Given Mr. Djokovic’s high-profile status and position as a role model in the sporting and broader community,” Hawke said in a statement, “his ongoing presence in Australia may foster similar disregard for the precautionary requirements following receipt of a positive Covid-19 test in Australia.”
Djokovic’s lawyers argue that the government unfairly based their decision to revoke his visa again on the premise that Djokovic would engender anti-vaccine sentiments and not on the rule of law.
All of this comes at a time when coronavirus cases have risen worldwide, particularly in Australia which has experienced long lockdowns. Initial sentiment in Australia supported Djokovic as he came to Melbourne believing he had a legal exemption. But as more information emerged, including false statements and Djokovic’s cavalier approach after he tested positive in December, the mood has largely turned against him.
Djokovic was initially allowed an exemption from the federal requirement to be vaccinated for the coronavirus in order to participate in the Australian Open. The exemption was granted on the basis of a positive test Djokovic took in Serbia on December 16. He arrived at Melbourne airport on January 5th and was immediately detained by federal authorities. He was then transferred to a hotel for asylum seekers and refugees.
The judge quickly revoked the detention order for procedural reasons, stating that Djokovic was not given fair opportunity to consult representatives and allies, including the organizers. He was released from detention and allowed to return to the practice courts to prepare for his fourth consecutive Australian Open title, and record 10th overall.
But an investigation revealed irregularities and inaccurate statements on Djokovic’s visa application — which Djokovic later acknowledged and apologized for on Wednesday. The documents did not state that Djokovic, a Monte Carlo resident, had traveled between Serbian and Spanish during the 14 days preceding his arrival in Australia. Djokovic blamed the error on human oversight by one his handlers.
The Australian government expressed concern that Djokovic hosted journalists in Belgrade on Dec. 18, just a day after learning that he had tested positive. These revelations led to Friday’s second visa revocation.
Some skeptics wondered if Djokovic’s positive test might have been faked to help him earn the exemption. On Friday, Zoran Gojkovic, a member of Serbia’s coronavirus crisis team, said the player’s positive test result was valid. He said that Djokovic hadn’t violated any Serbian laws since the end of the state-of-exception last month.
The Novak Djokovic standoff with Australia
Djokovic is a unique player on the ATP Tour. More than 90 percent have been vaccinated, the men’s sport’s leading organization reports, and most enjoy far greater ease of movement.
2022: The tour won’t require vaccinated players or team members to take more tests than the initial one upon their arrival at a tournament. Players and team members who are not vaccinated will need to be tested on a regular basis.
Djokovic is the top seed in the draw for the Australian Open. He will play Miomir Kmanovic in round one. If Djokovic is forced to withdraw after the schedule of play comes out on Sunday, he will be replaced by a so-called lucky loser — a player who lost in the qualifying rounds.
“Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Rafael Nadal, who has also won 20 Grand Slam titles, said on Saturday. “If he’s playing finally, OK. If he’s not playing, Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him.”
Martina Navratilova was the Hall of Fame player and analyst who told Sunrise TV in Australia that Djokovic should resign on his own to end the drama. “It’s just the right thing to do,” she said, “but I don’t think he will do that because he wants that 21st title.”
Many players felt fatigued by the saga, and lamented the distraction from the actual sport. Alex de Minaur, an Australian player, ranked No. 34-year-old Alex de Minaur expressed compassion for a nation afflicted by the pandemic.
“Look, Australians have gone through a lot,” he said. “There’s no secret about that. They’ve had it very tough. They’ve done a lot of work to protect themselves and their borders.”
He added: “If you wanted to come into the country, you had to be double vaccinated. It was up to him, his choices, his judgment.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Scott Morrison (Australia’s Prime Minister) of unfairly targeting Djokovic. Morrison has been criticized for handling the pandemic before elections. The president said Australia’s government had not only disrespected Djokovic, but all of Serbia, too.
“If you wanted to ban Novak Djokovic from winning the 10th trophy in Melbourne, why didn’t you return him immediately? Why didn’t you tell him, ‘It is impossible to obtain a visa?’” Vucic said, adding, “Why are you mistreating him? Why are you taking it out not only on him but also on his family and the whole nation?”
Damien Cave, Yan Zhuang, Christopher Clarey, Matthew Futterman, Marc Santora, Austin RamzyAnd Ben RothenbergContributed reporting
Source: NY Times