Melbourne: Lawyers for Novak Djokovic mounted a legal challenge against Australia’s decision to deport him after federal officials overruled a state vaccine exemption for the tennis star that sparked a national uproar.
The player, due to contest the Australian Open this month, offered insufficient proof to enter the country under current pandemic rules, the Australian Border Force said Thursday. While he was earlier granted a medical exemption to enter the state of Victoria, the federal government revoked that after officials questioned the athlete for hours at Melbourne Airport.
“Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled,” the ABF statement said.
“Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia.”
Djokovic will remain in Australian immigration detention following a court’s decision to adjourn his appeal to a visa cancellation, it reported on Thursday. The court will be adjourned until Monday morning.
He’s in Melbourne to seek a record 21st Grand Slam victory after winning nine Australian Open singles titles, including the past three tournaments.
The backflip is the latest example of the confusion surrounding Covid guidelines that’s plaguing both officials and citizens as case numbers continue to surge. Throughout the pandemic, states have largely set their own policies on the entry of overseas and local visitors, as well as lockdowns, but the federal government ultimately decides on who can enter the country.
“There are no special cases: rules are rules,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “If you are not double vaccinated and not an Australian resident or citizen, you cannot come.”
The disparity between policies has caused upheaval during the holiday period, with some states demanding tests and different requirements for residents from other regions. The two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, have loosened entry restrictions for both overseas and local visitors even as the omicron variant has seen case numbers to surge in recent weeks, with hospitalizations also slowly climbing.
The initial exemption for Djokovic, who has previously criticized vaccine mandates, sparked criticism and anger in Melbourne, which became the world’s most locked down city during the pandemic.
The player was among a handful of competitors granted medical exemptions for the tournament, the first of the four annual Grand Slam events, which begins Jan. 17.
Arriving players and support staff from overseas who have a valid medical exemption can follow the same rules for travelers into Victoria state who are fully vaccinated, though face some greater restrictions on entering sensitive settings such as schools.
It’s a marked departure from the experience of the world’s tennis elite in 2021 where 14-day hotel quarantine in Melbourne was required with strict rules around daily testing and close contacts.
According to the Australian Associated Press, Djokovic is being kept in the Park Hotel, which has served as a detention center for asylum seekers and suffered a fire that broke out two weeks ago.
While many Victorians will welcome that foreign sports celebrities are subject to the same Covid rules as other visitors, the denial of Djokovic’s entry hasn’t gone down well in his native Serbia.
He needs to move from the “infamous” hotel to a rented house where he can train, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told reporters in Belgrade on Thursday.
A flurry of calls between the respective government officials, including between Serbian Premier Ana Brnabic and Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, should help resolve that, he said.