Novak Djokovic awaits his fate at the Australian Open at an immigration hotel in Melbourne as the world No. 1 files a legal challenge against Australia’s decision to revoke his visa.
Djokovic’s lawyers managed to avoid his eviction on Thursday with a full hearing in federal court now scheduled for Monday.
The tennis champion spent eight hours at Melbourne airport before Australian Border Force officials announced he had been refused entry to the country on Thursday morning. They called it failing to meet Australian requirements for Covid vaccination waiver.
It is clear that the reigning Australian Open champion relied on a previous Covid infection as the basis for his exemption to participate – but that is not recognized by the federal government.
After unsuccessfully pleading his case at the airport, Djokovic was transported from the airport to an immigration hotel in Carlton, a suburb of Melbourne.
As the political and diplomatic fallout unfolded, Djokovic’s lawyers worked to secure injunctive relief to stop his deportation.
In a quick hearing before Judge Anthony Kelly on Thursday night, it was agreed that a full hearing between the player and the Home Secretary would be heard on Monday. The parties must submit evidence and documents this weekend.
The court heard that Tennis Australia had said it should know if Djokovic could participate on Tuesday for planning purposes. Lawyers also asked if Djokovic could be moved to a hotel with a tennis court so he could practice.
Kelly said he would try to accommodate the parties to find a solution so that Djokovic can participate in public, but also stressed that the court would not be rushed.
“The tail isn’t wagging the dog here,” Kelly said. “If Tennis Australia decides to do what it wants to do in running its business, it will. All I can do is provide this court with every facility to assist these parties to resolve it in the best possible way.”
The legal challenge could go all the way to the Supreme Court, but there are just 11 days before Djokovic begins his campaign for a record 21 grand slam title at Melbourne Park.
“People should be fully vaccinated as defined by Atagi [the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation] to gain quarantine-free access to Australia,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.
“That means people who don’t meet the definition won’t be approved for quarantine-free access.
“I was informed that no such exemption was in force and as a result he has [Djokovic] is subject to the same rule as anyone else. This isn’t about one person, it’s just a matter of following the rules, and so those processes will go on for the next few hours and that event will go as it should.”
Djokovic’s predicament has become the epicenter of a political struggle between Morrison’s federal government and Daniel Andrews’ state government in Victoria.
The Serb traveled to Australia after being granted an exemption from Tennis Australia and the Victorian government to compete. It was awarded following a process that included a review by two panels of health experts. Djokovic had expected that that exemption – along with his federal government-issued visa – would enable him to play at the Australian Open.
However, upon arrival, border officials at the airport said Djokovic could not justify the reasons for his exemption.
Morrison said on Thursday that Tennis Australia had been informed several months ago that a recent infection was not sufficient the criteria for an exemption enter Australia unvaccinated.
Tennis Australia and Victorian government officials said Djokovic, who has won nine titles at Melbourne Park, including the last three, was denied preferential treatment, adding that he was one of “a handful” of 26 people who applied and were approved in an anonymous and independent process .
Later on Thursday, Victorian Health Secretary Martin Foley said Djokovic’s visa was not the state’s responsibility.
“Someone issued Novak Djokovic a visa and it was not the Victorian government,” Foley said. “What the Victorian Government has done, what Tennis Australia has done, is within the law of the land.”
The saga, fueled by domestic political scoring over the country’s handling of a record wave of new Omicron infections, has sparked an international incident, with Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić alleging he harassed his star player.
“I just finished my phone call with Novak Djokovic,” Vučić posted on Instagram. “I have told our Novak that all of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything they can to ensure that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is immediately ended. In accordance with all standards of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice.”