Sports Djokovic back into swing in Australia, visa questions linger
Novak Djokovic denied entry to Australia, has visa canceled
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic’s chance to play for a 10th Australian Open title was thrown into limbo Thursday when the country denied him entry and canceled his visa because he failed to meet the requirements for an exemption to COVID-19 vaccination rules. The top-ranked Djokovic announced on social media Tuesday that he had “exemption permission” and he landed in Australia late Wednesday with a medical exemption from the Victoria state government that was expected to shield him from the strict vaccination regulations in place for this year’s first major tennis tournament.
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic held a practice session on Tuesday, a day after he left immigration detention, focusing on defending his Australian Open title even while he still faces the prospect of deportation because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19.
The top-ranked tennis star hit the show courts of Melbourne Park, where the tournament is held, within hours of winning a legal battle that allowed him to stay in the country.
is whether he has a valid exemption to rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia since he recently recovered from COVID-19. A judge ruled Monday he could stay, but the immigration minister could still send him home.
EXPLAINER: Why was Novak Djokovic not let into Australia?
Novak Djokovic came within one victory of sweeping all four of last year's Grand Slam tennis tournaments and entered 2022 needing one title to set the men's record of 21 major championships. He might not get the chance to pursue that mark at the Australian Open when play begins in Melbourne on Jan. 17. That's because, even though Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia, was granted a medical exemption to get around a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all players and their support teams at the hard-court tournament, his visa for entry into Australia was revoked in the early hours of Thursday, local time, after he was detained at the airport for about eight hours.
There were also new questions raised Tuesday over an immigration form, on which he said he had not traveled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia. The Monte Carlo-based athlete was seen in Spain and Serbia in that two-week period.
Theover whether Djokovic complied with Australia's rules has caused a furor in the country and beyond. When the vocal skeptic of vaccines was first granted a visa to travel to Melbourne, many complained he was being given special treatment from a country known for its strict travel restrictions during the pandemic.
But amid a flood of confusing information about what the rules are, others have charged Djokovic has become a convenient scapegoat for an Australian government facing criticism for its recent handling of the pandemic.
EXPLAINER: Why Australia faces a tough call on Djokovic
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — When Australian immigration officials rejected tennis star Novak Djokovic’s medical exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement and canceled his Australian visa, they set off a storm of ramifications — bureaucratic, political and legal. The world’s top male tennis player spent four days in a dowdy Melbourne immigration detention hotel among asylum seekers and undocumented migrants before Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly upheld his appeal and ordered him released and his visa reinstated.
The nine-time Australian Open winner held a practice Tuesday afternoon at Rod Laver Arena. Soon after, tournament organizers made him the top-seeded player in the men’s singles draw.
The athlete was seen hitting shots from behind the baseline, taking feedback from his coach, and stretching beside the court with a trainer. He spent four nights confined to an immigration hotel and now is getting back into the swing less than a week before the Grand Slam tournament starts.
“Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete @AustralianOpen. I remain focused on that,” Djokovic. “I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans.”
But he still faces the prospect of deportation before the first match.
Djokovic was given an exemption by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, the tournament organizer, from its vaccination rules to compete because he was infected with COVID-19 last month. That apparently allowed him to receive a visa to travel.
EXPLAINER: How will Australian visa ruling impact Djokovic?
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — As Novak Djokovic awaits a final decision on whether his visa will be revoked, all eyes have turned to Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. He has to decide whether he will overturn the decision of a federal judge, who ruled Djokovic’s visa should be reinstated because he was unfairly treated by officials at the border. Hawke has discretion to revoke Djokovic’s visa but has taken longer than expected to reach a decision which has legal, political, sporting and diplomatic consequences. © Provided by The Canadian Press ____ WHAT HAPPENS NOW? Whatever Hawke decides, it’s unlikely to be the last word.
But federal border authorities stopped him on arrival last week and canceled his visa. Lawyers for the government have said an infection in the previous six months was only grounds for an exemption in cases in which the coronavirus caused severe illness.
It's not clear why Djokovic was ever granted a visa if that's the case.
A federal judge reinstated Djokovic's visa Monday on procedural grounds, saying he hadn’t been allowed enough time to speak to his lawyers to contest the decision. But Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is still considering using his power to deport the 34-year-old Serbian under separate legislation.
Hawke’s office issued a statement saying the matter was still under consideration.
Video: Tennis champ Novak Djokovic's visa reinstated, allowed to stay in Australia for now (Global News)
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government has blamed the debacle on Tennis Australia, which ministers accuse of misleading players about vaccine requirements. But newspapers have reported that the sporting body had pleaded with the Department of Home Affairs to check the visa paperwork of Djokovic and other players before their flights.
Double-fault: Visa revoked again, Djokovic faces deportation
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for a second time, the latest twist in the ongoing saga over whether the No. 1-ranked tennis player will be allowed to compete in the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated for COVID-19. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Friday he used his ministerial discretion to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds — just three days before play begins at the Australian Open, where Djokovic has won a record nine of his 20 Grand Slam titles.
A new potential stumbling block also emerged Tuesday after documents released by the Federal Circuit Court revealed Djokovic told authorities he had not traveled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia.
Djokovic touched down in Melbourne just before midnight Wednesday, answering “no” to the question about previous travel on his Australian Travel Declaration form.
But he was filmed playing tennis in the streets of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on Dec. 25, and later training in Spain — all within the 14-day window. He traveled to Australia from Marbella, Spain.
Djokovic told border officers that Tennis Australia completed the declaration for him, but the officer who canceled his visa said that the body would have done that based on information from Djokovic himself.
It was not clear if the document came up during Monday’s hearing.
The form notes that giving false or misleading information is a serious offense — and it could be grounds for deportation.
The drama has polarized opinions and elicited strong support for the 20-time Grand Slam winner.
Morrison spoke about the issue with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić on Tuesday, and they agreed to keep in touch.
“The PM explained our non-discriminatory border policy and its role in protecting Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Morrison’s office said in a statement.
Report: Djokovic back in immigration detention in Australia
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic was reported to be back in immigration detention Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid being deported from Australia for being unvaccinated for COVID-19 was moved to a higher court. A Federal Court hearing has been scheduled for Sunday, a day before the men’s No. 1-ranked tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion was due to begin his title defense at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year. Police closed down a lane behind the building where Djokovic’s lawyers are based and two vehicles exited the building mid-afternoon local time on Saturday.
Brnabić asked Morrison to ensure Djokovic was treated with dignity, public broadcaster Radio Television of Serbia reported.
“The prime minister especially emphasized the importance of the conditions for training and physical preparation for the upcoming competition,” RTS reported.
The drama has put Morrison’s government in a tight spot ahead of elections due by May. While his government was widely praised for containing the nation’s COVID-19 death toll at the start of the pandemic, he has recently been criticized for loosening some rules, just as omicron cases have been rapidly surging.
The opposition home affairs spokesperson, Kristina Keneally, blamed the visa confusion on a lack of planning by Morrison's government and said the saga made Australia “look like a bit of a joke” on the world stage.
“It does incredible damage to Australia” if Djokovic gets deported, Keneally told the Seven Network television, but “if he gets to stay it does incredible damage to our tough border laws and is a real insult to the Australians who did the hard work of lockdowns and vaccination.”
Andy Murray, who lost four Australian Open finals to Djokovic, said the court win was a “positive” for his fellow major winner but there were still details to clarify.
“I’m sure we’ll hear from him in the next few days," Murray said. “I’m hoping we can move on from it now. It looks like he’s going to be able to play and compete in the Australian Open.”
McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia. Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.
John Pye And Rod Mcguirk, The Associated Press
Djokovic's deportation exposes Australian border debate .
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Weary after two years of some of the harshest COVID-19 border restrictions in the world, many Australians wanted Novak Djokovic kicked out of their country for traveling to a tennis tournament in their country without being vaccinated. But the backdrop to the government's tough line on the defending Australian Open champion — and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s description of the expulsion as a “decision to keep our borders strong” — dates to nearly a decade ago. It also shines a light on Australia's complicated, and strongly criticized, immigration and border policies.