Novak Djokovic's shot at a record 21st Grand Slam victory rests on the shoulders of one Australian minister.
Immigration chief Alex Hawke is still weighing whether he'll exercise special personal powers that allow him to cancel Djokovic's visa and spoil his hopes of winning the Australian Open this month. The world men's tennis no. 1 has been in training since his release from detention on Monday after a court thwarted the government's efforts to deport him on vaccination grounds.
Federal officials are also looking into a discrepancy on Djokovic's travel declaration form that he used to enter Australia, The Age newspaper reported, without naming sources. The document incorrectly stated that he hadn't visited any other countries in the two weeks prior to his arrival, the paper said.
"Providing false or misleading information or documentation to the Commonwealth can lead to visa cancellation and/or attract penalties, including under criminal law," a spokesperson for the Australian Border Force said in an emailed statement, adding that it can't comment on operational matters.
Djokovic told border officials on arriving in the country that Tennis Australia had completed the form on his behalf.
In a further twist, a positive Covid test that Djokovic produced dating from Dec. 16 may have been registered on a later date, Germany's Der Spiegel magazine reported. It cited research among the tennis player's documents based on a time stamp on the test and an identification number.
Judge Anthony Kelly overturned the cancellation of Djokovic's visa in a court hearing on Monday, saying the unvaccinated player wasn't given enough time to fully respond to border officials who denied him entry to Australia. He said the player faced harm to his personal and professional reputation from the court proceedings, and warned that any attempt by minister Hawke to use his personal cancellation powers could mean that Djokovic wouldn't be able to return to Australia for three years.
While documents released as part of the hearing show Djokovic's lawyers claimed he tested positive for Covid on Dec. 16., the star was pictured publicly at events in the following days.
Dijana Djokovic, the player's mother, said her son probably didn't know he was positive at the time, in an interview with Channel 7 on Wednesday.
The Association of Tennis Professionals, male players' global governing body, echoed Judge Kelly's comments on Tuesday, saying it was clear that Djokovic had obtained the necessary medical exemption to play in Australia. It conceded that Australians had made many sacrifices during the pandemic and still strongly recommended vaccination for all players.
"Complications in recent days related to player entry into Australia have, however, highlighted the need for clearer understanding, communication and application of the rules," ATP said in a statement.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison even discussed the matter with Serbian leader Ana Brnabic earlier on Tuesday, The Age reported. He insisted that Australia's travel rules weren't discriminatory, the paper said.
The saga highlights the mismatch between federal and state policies that's been a hallmark of Australia's Covid-19 journey. While Victoria state granted Djokovic a medical exemption before he boarded a plane, federal officials overturned his visa on arrival amid a national uproar that a wealthy sports star was receiving special treatment. More than 90% of Australian adults are fully vaccinated and the country has endured some of the world's toughest restrictions during the pandemic.
Australians who haven't had at least two doses of vaccine are restricted from entering most indoor venues in Victoria as the state, home to Melbourne, sees to curb the spread of the omicron variant and ease pressure on hospitals. The country reported more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases for the first time in a single day on Saturday.
Djokovic arrived in Australia last Wednesday night local time and was questioned at Melbourne Airport for hours before Border Force officials decided to cancel his visa. The player's confusion and frustration during the interviews was apparent in a transcript released shortly after Monday's court decision.
"I really am a little bit surprised that I am in this situation because how am I supposed to even come to Australia if I didn't have these documents that are official documents?" Djokovic said, according to the transcript.
Djokovic has previously won the Australian Open nine times. The tournament will start on Jan. 17.