World’s number one tennis player Novak Djokovic will be detained in a hotel until Monday. This happened after he was denied entry to Australia in a row over vaccine exemption.
Novak Djokovic, 34, was given a medical exemption to play in the Australian Open. But border officials said it did not meet the country’s entry requirements.
The star was detained at Melbourne airport for several hours on Wednesday before being taken to a government detention hotel. Meanwhile, his lawyers launched an urgent appeal in court. Djokovic has not disclosed his vaccination status but said last year he was opposed to the jab.
A full hearing regarding Djokovic’s visa is set to take place Monday. But the Australian government could seek a ruling to deport him before then.
Djokovic received a medical exemption to play at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the season. It was because he is a nine-time winner and the defending champion.
The exemption allows him to play regardless of his vaccination status for Covid-19. However, he also needs to meet strict border regulations to enter the country.
In a strongly-worded statement, the Australian Border Force confirmed Djokovic’s visa application has been cancelled. They did this because he did not meet entry requirements and he faced being deported. It read: “The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements. The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia. Therefore his visa has been subsequently cancelled.
Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia. The ABF can confirm Mr Djokovic had access to his phone.” The move sparked a diplomatic row with Djokovic’s native Serbia.
Its president, Aleksandar Vucic said he had spoken with the player to say the country’s diplomats were working to end the “harassment of the world’s best tennis player”. Djokovic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, earlier told the B92 internet portal: “Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter. In front of the room are two policemen.”
“I have no idea what’s going on, they’re holding my son captive for five hours,” the reported statement said. “This is a fight for the libertarian world, not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world! If they don’t let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street, this is a fight for everyone.”
The Age newspaper in Melbourne earlier reported that Djokovic had landed on Wednesday before midnight local time at Tullamarine Airport. But
his entry was delayed because of a mistake with his visa application.
Djokovic’s revelation on social media that he was heading to Australia sparked debate and plenty of headlines on Wednesday. He was going to seek a record 21st major title. Critics questioned the grounds he could have for the exemption. Alongside, backers argued he has a right to privacy and freedom of choice.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the “completely legitimate application and process” and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic.
The Victoria state government mandated that only fully vaccinated players, staff, fans and officials could enter Melbourne Park when the tournament starts on January 17.
Only 26 people connected with the tournament applied for a medical exemption and, Mr Tiley said, only a “handful” were granted. But, he suggested, it would be “helpful” if Djokovic chose to explain it to a Melbourne public still getting over months of lockdowns and severe travel restrictions imposed at the height of the pandemic.
Jaala Pulford, Victoria state’s acting minister for sports, acknowledged in the Djokovic case that lots of people in the community “will find this to be a disappointing outcome”, but added: “Nobody has had special treatment. The process is incredibly robust.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the world number one, who has previously spoken out against vaccinations, would be on the “next plane home” if he could not provide “acceptable proof” that his exemption was legitimate.
Following the announcement by the ABF, Morrison said that entry exceptions could not be made for anyone. Morrison tweeted: “Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical. So Australia is having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID. We are continuing to be vigilant.”