Sports Djokovic's deportation exposes Australian border debate
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) — Weary after two years of some of the harshest COVID-19 border restrictions in the world, many Australians wanted Novakkicked 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.
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requirement for all players and their support teams at the hard-court tournament, his visa for entry into Australia was revoked in the early hours of Thursday, local time, after he was detained at the airport for about eight hours.
Back in 2013, the border issue wasn't unvaccinated foreigners like Djokovic but thousands of asylum seekers from Asia, the Middle East and Africa who flocked to Australia on rickety fishing boats from Indonesian ports.
Now, with the next election due by May, Djokovic has become the new focus of the government’s claim to a tough stance on border protection that leaders hope will win votes. The opposition, meanwhile, argues that Djokovic has exposed government failures in border control and its pandemic response.
Refugee activists say the tennis star's treatment exposes the harsh treatment of dozens of others detained because of visa issues.
Widespread anger followed a Djokovic post on social media on Jan. 4 that said he had been granted “exemption permission” to fly quarantine-free to Australia to play tennis. He had been approved by an automated visa application process days earlier.
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.
Djokovic arrived at a time when some Australians’ overseas relatives still aren't able to visit because their COVID-19 vaccine types aren’t recognized by Australian authorities.
Tennis fan Holly McCann, who attended the first day of theon Monday, said Djokovic did not deserve to be an exception to strict border rules.
“It should be the rule is the rule, regardless of your status,” McCann said. “I have nothing against him personally, but I don’t think he should be an exception.”
When an expletive-laden off-air conversation between Seven Network television anchors Mike Amor and Rebecca Maddern savaging Djokovic’s character and government bungling of his case was somehow posted online, viewer responses were overwhelmingly positive, suggesting a strong urge for Djokovic to be expelled.
A poll published by The Sun Herald and Sunday Age newspapers on Sunday showed 71% of respondents did not want Djokovic to be allowed to stay in Australia.
Will Novak Djokovic play in Australian Open? Latest news on tennis star's visa decision
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic's name is on the Australian Open draw right now, but will he be able to stay? MORE: Australian Open draws 2022 Is Novak Djokovic playing in the Australian Open 2022? Djokovic's playing status is still undetermined as his visa acceptance is being reviewed at this time. However, in the meantime, he is the No. 1 seed for the 2022 Australian Open. He faces a fellow Serbian, Miomir Kecmanovic, in the first round of the tournament, beginning on Monday. It's unclear when Immigration Minister Hawke will have a decision about Djokovic's visa status.
In 2013, when a conservative coalition won the first of three consecutive elections, Morrison, the then-new minister for Immigration and Border Protection, played a key role in revamping what had seemed to many the insurmountable and politically damaging problem of daily unauthorized boat arrivals.
Morrison took credit as government vessels turned back boats and asylum seekers were sent to immigration centers on poor island nations instead of the Australian mainland.
Djokovic's days in Australia were largely spent in the cramped Park Hotel, which is used for immigration detention, while he fought in the courts to stay in Melbourne. This was welcomed by refugee advocates for the international attention it focused on 60 other people kept in the same high-rise building because they don't have visas.
Video: Novak Djokovic deported from Australia after losing final appeal (cbc.ca)
When Djokovic’s visa was first canceled, Morrison tweeted, “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders.”
TIMELINE: Novak Djokovic's bid to compete at Australian Open
The Australian government on Friday revoked tennis star Novak Djokovic's visa for a second time, just three days before the Australian Open begins. Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal the cancellation in the Federal Circuit and Family Court, as they successfully did the first time. Melbourne-based immigration lawyer Kian Bone said that Djokovic’s lawyers face an “extremely difficult” task to get court orders over the weekend to allow their client to play next week. His exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to compete was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, which apparently allowed him to receive a visa to travel.
But Melbourne-based refugee advocate Ian Rintoul noted that unlike other refugees and asylum seekers who shared the Park Hotel with the wealthy celebrity, Djokovic was not handcuffed when he was escorted from the building.
“Many people learned that there are refugees being held prisoner by the Australian government for the first time because of Novak Djokovic,” Rintoul said. “That’s the silver lining to this fiasco.”
The political decision to deport Djokovic was made by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke after a court overturned a previous decision by a border official to cancel his visa on procedural grounds when he arrived at Melbourne airport 11 days earlier.
Confusingly, Australia canceled Djokovic’s visa twice for different reasons.
In the first instance, the visa was canceled because his diagnosis with COVID-19 in Serbia last month did not qualify him for an exemption from Australia’s border rules. Foreign visitors have to be fully vaccinated or provide a medical certificate as evidence that they cannot be inoculated for health reasons.
Djokovic had relied on exemptions from vaccine rules provided by Tennis Australia and the Victoria state government.
The 34-year-old Serb was finally deported because Hawke regarded him as a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiment” whose presence might encourage Australians to emulate his flouting of pandemic safety measures.
Verdict soon in Djokovic's deportation case in Australia
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A court hearing for tennis star Novak Djokovic’s appeal against deportation in Australia ended Sunday and a verdict was expected within hours. Federal Court Chief Justice James Allsop said he and two fellow judges hoped to reach a verdict later Sunday. The top-ranked male tennis player needs to win the appeal to defend his Australian Open title in play that begins on Monday. The Australian government cancelled Djokovic's visa on Friday due to issues surrounding his stance against COVID-19 vaccination. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
Border protection has been a recurring theme in Morrison’s rise to power. While popular at home, the border policies were widely criticized as inhumane and an abrogation of Australia’s international obligations to refugees.
Those in hotel detention with Djokovic came to Australia from camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical treatment and then gained a court injunction preventing them from being sent back. Some have been detained in hotels for more than two years, Rintoul, the refugee advocate, said.
For almost two years following the start of the pandemic, thousands of Australians were refused permission to travel overseas to visit dying relatives, attend funerals and weddings or be introduced to newborn family members.
Considered cruel by many, the travel ban kept Australia’s pandemic death toll down and was supported by a majority of Australians.
But a relaxation of travel restrictions a month ago because of high vaccination levels and the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant have resulted in Australia recording as many coronavirus infections in the first weeks of 2022 as it tallied in the previous two years of the pandemic.
Morrison has laid the blame for Djokovic's ill-fated Australian trip squarely on the tennis star.
But opposition spokesperson Kristina Keneally said there was no excuse for the government issuing a visa in the first place for “a known anti-vax proponent."
“This has been a monumental bungle at our borders by the Morrison government. They want to run around and pat themselves on the back about it. They deserve a kick up the backside,” she said.
This story corrects that Australians were prevented from traveling overseas, not returning home.
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.