Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic of Serbia. Australia’s government cancelled Djokovic’s visa for a second time on January 14, 2022 as it sought to deport the superstar over his COVID-19 vaccine status. Image Credit: AFP

Just when the Novak Djokovic saga was coming to a close, here comes a bombshell. Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke exercised the nuclear option on Friday, cancelling the Serbian tennis player’s visa a second time. Djokovic’s legal team has sought a judicial review, and a Federal Court hearing is scheduled for Sunday, the day before the Australian Open begins.

Whatever be the outcome, it’s difficult to disagree with Hawke’s decision since condoning Djokovic would encourage more people to land in Australia unvaccinated. And Canberra would be under fire for pandering to a prima donna if they turn away the unvaccinated.

Not just that. It would also convey the impression that the COVID rules in Australia can bend. That would be unfair on the hundreds of thousands of Australians who suffered immensely under lockdowns and restrictions on interstate travel. At one point, thousands of citizens were unable to fly home.

Djokovic’s lawyers say that one of the reasons stated for the minister’s decision to cancel the visa is that the Serbian could ‘excite anti-vax sentiment’. I don’t know how that will stand in a court, but that’s something Australia would want to avoid, especially when there’s an Omicron surge. And vaccinations are reported to reduce the severity of COVID infections.

Come to think of it, all this drama was needless if Djokovic had adhered to the COVID rules in Australia. Instead, he chose to play by his rules. He refused to be vaccinated and sought an exemption with a recent COVID infection, which was only revealed after he was denied entry by the Australian Border Force.

A procedural error gained him a reprieve from a judge only for the world to find out that Djokovic had been making several public appearances in Belgrade even after he suspected a coronavirus infection. If all these reflect bad faith, there was an “administrative mistake” in his travel papers, which he blamed on his agent.

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Even before we made sense of all that comes Hawke’s decision. The visa cancellation by the immigration minister under Section 133C (3) means Djokovic will be banned from Australia for three years: a visa cannot be granted to him for three years. That would be brutal.

It will be a shame if Djokovic misses the Australian Open for three years. At 34, the world number one has at least three more years of top-flight tennis in him. He already owns a record-equalling 20 Grand Slams and can add more to become the most successful player in history.

After this saga, any story on Djokovic would be incomplete without mentioning his attempts to evade the Australian COVID rules. That would be a stain on an otherwise glittering career. That’s a pity!