Novak Djokovic
Tennis star Novak Djokovic has lost his last-ditch court bid to stay in Australia and is set to be deported. Image Credit: AFP

Sydney: Tennis star Novak Djokovic will be deported from Australia after the Federal Court upheld a government decision to revoke his visa over fears his presence would strengthen anti-vaccination sentiment.

The decision was unanimous, Federal Court chief justice James Allsop said on a live-stream of the ruling. The reasons for the decision will be published later, he said.

How the controversy unfolded

It's a blow to Djokovic's hopes of winning a record 21st Grand Slam singles title that would have come with A$2.875 million ($2.1 million) in prize money. The world's top ranked player has won the Australian Open the past three years and notched almost half of his Grand Slam titles at the tournament.

Djokovic's lawyers challenged Immigration Minister Alex Hawke's use of special powers to revoke his visa on grounds of health and good order, and on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so. The decision reversed an earlier court ruling that quashed his first visa cancellation for procedural reasons.

Hawke argued Djokovic's presence risked strengthening anti-vaccination sentiment among a minority of the population and creating a public order risk, according to court documents. Djokovic is unvaccinated and has shown an "apparent disregard" for basic rules such as isolating after a positive test, which may encourage or influence others to emulate his conduct, Hawke said.

For Djokovic, his lawyers said Hawke took an "unreasonable approach" to assessing whether his deportation was in the public interest and cited no evidence that his presence may foster anti-vaccination sentiment, according to a court filing. The only evidence of protests referring to Djokovic's were caused by the state canceling his visa the first time, barrister Nick Wood said in the hearing Sunday.

Public outrage

"Rightly or wrongly he is perceived to endorse an anti-vaccination view and his presence here is perceived to contribute to that," Stephen Lloyd, acting for the government, told the court.

Public outrage has dogged the champion since his arrival in Australia following the revelation that he had secured a medical exemption to play in the tournament. That unleashed a wave of public anger in a country that's endured some of the toughest curbs seen in the pandemic. While Victoria state granted Djokovic the exemption, federal officials overturned his visa on arrival.

An opinion poll published by The Age newspaper on Sunday showed almost three quarters of Australians believe Djokovic should be sent home without playing in the Australian Open. Just 14% said he should be allowed to stay, the poll of 1607 people showed.