Melbourne: Novak Djokovic is set to be granted a visa to play in next year’s Australian Open despite his high-profile deportation in January.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday said it had confirmed newspaper reports that the immigration minister had overturned a potential three-year exclusion period for Djokvoic.
The Australian Border Force has previously said an exclusion period could be waived in certain circumstances — and that each case would be assessed on its merits.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles’ office declined comment on privacy grounds, meaning any announcement on Djokovic’s visa status would have to come from the 35-year-old Serbian tennis star.
The 21-time Grand Slam singles champion wasn’t allowed to defend his Australian Open title this year after a tumultuous 10-day legal saga over his Covid-19 vaccination status that culminated with his visa being revoked on the eve of the tournament.
Djokovic arrived at Melbourne Airport as the world’s top-ranked tennis player with a visa he’d obtained online and what he believed to be a valid medical exemption to the country’s strict laws for unvaccinated travellers because it was endorsed by Tennis Australia and the government of Victoria state, which hosts the tournament.
Confusion reigned, generating global headlines. As it transpired, that medical exemption allowed him entry to the tournament, which required all players, fans and officials to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, but not necessarily to enter the country. It was rejected by the Australian Border Force.
Alex Hawke, Australia’s immigration minister at the time, used discretionary powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa on character grounds, stating he was a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment.”
Australia has had a change of government and changed its border rules this year and, since July 6, incoming travellers no longer have to provide proof of Covid-19 vaccinations. That removed the major barrier to entry for Djokovic.
It allowed him to apply to new Immigration Minister Giles to reconsider his visa status. In his favour, Djokovic left Australia quickly after his visa was revoked and has not publicly criticised Australian authorities.
As the Department of Home Affairs website explains, applicants in Djokovic’s circumstances must explain in writing to Australia’s border authorities why the exclusion period should be put aside — “you must show us that there are compassionate or compelling circumstances to put aside your re-entry ban and grant you the visa.”
Djokovic indicated on Monday at the ATP Finals in Italy that his lawyers were communicating with the Australian government with a view to him contesting the January 16-29 Australian Open.
Last month, Australian Open chief Craig Tiley said he had spent time with Djokovic recently and the Serbian wanted to return for the first major of the year in January in Melbourne.
“What we’re saying at this point is that Novak and the federal government need to work out the situation. And then we’ll follow any instruction after that,” Tiley told The Age newspaper at the tournament’s official launch.
“I did spend some time with Novak at the Laver Cup. We spoke generally. He said that he’d obviously love to come back to Australia but he knows it’s going to be an ultimate decision for the federal government.
“He’s accepted that position. It’s a private matter between them.”