Novak Djokovic denied entry to Australia ahead of Australian Open

Djokovic and his team had been held at Melbourne Airport for more than six hours by the Australian border force when he was informed that he needed to leave immediately.

“Mr. Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia,” the country’s Health Minister Greg Hunt told Australian television. “It’s a matter for him if he wishes to appeal that but if a visa is canceled somebody will have to leave the country.”

If Djokovic is to be deported, it won’t happen until at least next week after the player appealed against his visa cancellation in an Australian court and a federal judge adjourned a hearing until Monday.

Judge Anthony Kelly was unswayed by a comment by Djokovic’s lawyer that a decision on his client’s Australian Open participation needed to be made by Tuesday for tournament scheduling purposes. “The tail won’t be wagging the dog here. If Tennis Australia decides to do what it wants to do in running its enterprise, it will,” the judge said.

The decision by Australian authorities to cancel Djokovic’s visa drew the ire of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucicspoke out on Instagram after reaching Djokovic by phone.

“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him, and that our authorities are taking all measures to stop the harassment of the best tennis player in the world in the shortest possible period,” he said. “In accordance with all norms of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic, for justice and truth.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said people “try to run the border all the time,” but that Djokovic had not secured the necessary medical exemption to rules requiring arrivals to have received two doses of Covid-19 vaccine. He said it was not appropriate to discuss Djokovic’s medical history but added that the government told Australian Open organizers in late November that a diagnosis of, and recovery from, Covid within six months of entry would not exempt players from Australia’s vaccination requirements.

The saga of Djokovic’s possible trip to Australia had been brewing for months. The men’s world No. 1 had made it known that he didn’t want to be vaccinated while Australian Open organizers and the local government insisted that no unvaccinated players would be admitted, in accordance with national law requiring travelers to be jabbed.

But the situation shifted rapidly over the course of 24 hours. Djokovic tweeted on Tuesday that he had been granted a medical exemption enabling him to play in the tournament and chase a 21st major title. Djokovic didn’t specify why he was granted the waiver, but organizers indicated that the tournament had signed off in coordination with Victoria health authorities.

Mr. Morrison said Australia’s entry requirements were well known, and suggested that Djokovic had attracted additional scrutiny from border authorities by posting publicly about his plans.

“When you get people making public statements–of what they say they have and what they are going to do and what their claims are–they draw significant attention to themselves,” he said. “Anyone who does that—whether they are a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player, a journalist, whoever does that—they can expect to be asked questions more than others.”

Indeed, it was only once Djokovic touched down did he discover that, despite receiving the green light from Tennis Australia and local authorities, the Australian border authority required further documentation. During a stressful wait that spanned more than six hours, Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic posted a selfie on Instagram with the caption, “Not the most usual trip Down Under.”

Djokovic could not be reached for comment.

“Any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our strict border requirements,” Australia’s Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews said. “While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Djokovic, 34, could renew his application in time to play when the tournament begins on Jan. 17. Had he been eligible to participate, he would have been the automatic favorite to win a record 10th Australian Open and take his major-title tally above Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s for the first time in his career. (Nadal is due to play the tournament.)

Though Djokovic thought he was in the clear, outrage built overnight while he was mid-air. The state of Victoria, where Melbourne is the capital, has spent much of the past 21 months under a strict lockdown and locals felt that he was receiving special treatment.

Morrison had said on Wednesday that Djokovic would need to “provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons” to enter the country, despite tennis and border authorities already having given the green light.

“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home,” Morrison added. “There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.”

Djokovic, who contracted and recovered from Covid in the summer of 2020, was one of 26 players heading to the Australian Open to request a medical exemption. Only “a handful” received one after a blind review by two independent commissions, tournament director Craig Tiley said. “For tennis players, it was a process that goes above and beyond what anyone coming to Australia would have experienced.”

Tournament organizers had earlier insisted that no one—not players, coaches, staff or fans—would be admitted without vaccination. But this week, it appeared to reverse course as a showdown loomed between the Australian Open and the most successful male player in its history.

“Fair and independent protocols were established for assessing medical exemption applications that will enable us to ensure Australian Open 2022 is safe and enjoyable for everyone,” Tiley said.

But Wednesday’s confusion and ultimate refusal, first reported by Australia’s The Age newspaper, appeared to stem from a lack of coordination over visas between local authorities, the federal government, and Djokovic’s team.

With so much scrutiny on his vaccination status, Djokovic waited to travel to Australia later than most players, who were already on the ground for warm-up events. Several expressed their surprise that he was on his way.

“I don’t know what to say about that,” British doubles player Jamie Murray said after his match in the ATP Cup. “I think if it was me that wasn’t vaccinated, I wouldn’t be getting an exemption.”

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