Djokovic appeal to be heard Saturday after Australia cancels visa again

  • Djokovic’s visa canceled for the second time
  • Bid for 21st major Australian Open title stalled
  • Djokovic asks court for injunction to block deportation

MELBOURNE, Jan 15 (Reuters) – Tennis star Novak Djokovic was due to fight his fight against deportation from Australia in federal court on Saturday after the government again canceled his visa due to COVID-19 entry rules. 19 and his unvaccinated status.

The government has pledged not to deport him until the case is over, although the world’s highest-ranked player was nonetheless ordered to return to pre-trial detention at 8 a.m. Saturday (2100 GMT Friday ).

His legal team filed their appeal on Friday night, after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used discretionary powers to revoke the visa, hoping the Serbian player can still start his Australian Open title defense Monday.

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The lawyers said they would argue that deporting Djokovic could be just as much of a threat to public health, stoking anti-vaccine sentiment, as letting him stay and exempting him from Australia’s requirement that all visitors must be vaccinated.

In Serbia, a Health Ministry official defended the player against media reports of anomalies in the December 16 positive COVID-19 test that Djokovic used as the basis for his exemption document.

German news magazine Der Spiegel said earlier this week that the QR code for the test showed a negative result when first scanned, but later a positive result, and questioned when the test was actually performed .

Zoran Gojkovic, a member of the Serbian ministry’s COVID-19 crisis team, said a ministry analysis showed the document to be “absolutely valid”.

While Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has won national support for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not escaped criticism for the seemingly inconsistent handling of Djokovic’s visa application.

Djokovic, 34 and on the hunt for a record 21st Grand Slam title, was told on his arrival on January 5 that the medical exemption that allowed him to travel was not valid.

He spent several days in immigration detention before that decision was revoked on procedural grounds.

Hawke said on Friday he had now exercised his prerogative to cancel the visa “for reasons of health and good order, on the grounds that it was in the public interest to do so.”

“PROTECT THE BORDERS”

He said he had reviewed information from Djokovic and the authorities, and that the government was “strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Judge Anthony Kelly, who revoked the first overturn, said the government had agreed not to deport Djokovic until the end of the case, and the player could leave custody to meet his lawyers and attend hearings. Read more

Although Djokovic has publicly opposed compulsory vaccination, he has not campaigned against vaccination in general.

The controversy has nonetheless intensified a global debate over people’s right to choose whether or not to get vaccinated, and has become a politically sensitive issue for Morrison as he prepares for an election due in May.

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic trains at Melbourne Park as questions linger over the legal battle over his visa to play at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, January 13, 2022. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said in a statement.

“The Minister is doing just that by taking this action today. Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe.”

Australians have endured some of the longest lockdowns in the world, and the country has seen a runaway Omicron outbreak bring nearly a million cases in the past two weeks.

More than 90% of Australian adults are vaccinated and an online poll by media group News Corp found 83% in favor of deporting Djokovic. Read more

His cause was not helped by an incorrect entry declaration, where a box was ticked indicating that he had not traveled overseas in the two weeks prior to his departure for Australia.

In fact, he had traveled between Spain and Serbia.

Djokovic blamed the mistake on his agent and also admitted he shouldn’t have done an interview and photo shoot for a French newspaper on December 18 when he was infected with COVID-19.

The player has been hailed as a hero by anti-vaccination campaigners. Last September, more than 200 people were arrested during sometimes violent protests in Melbourne against a lockdown imposed to contain the spread.

“PROBLEMATICALLY IRRATIONAL”

Djokovic’s legal team said the government argued that letting him stay in Australia would cause others to refuse the vaccination.

One of his lawyers told the court it was ‘grossly irrational’ because Hawke was unaware of the effect the forced removal of ‘this high profile, legal compliant, negligible risk and medically contradicted player’ could have on anti-vax sentiment and public order.

Djokovic looked relaxed as he practiced serves and returned with his entourage to an empty pitch at Melbourne Park on Friday, resting occasionally to wipe sweat from his face.

He was included in the open draw as the top seed and is due to face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday.

Greece’s world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas, speaking ahead of Hawke’s decision, said Djokovic was “playing by his own rules” and making vaccinated players “like fools”.

In Belgrade, some already seemed resigned to Djokovic’s absence from the tournament.

“He is a role model for all of us, but rules clearly need to be established,” Milan Majstorovic told Reuters TV. “I’m not sure how much politics is involved in this.”

Another passer, Ana Bojic, said: “He can either get vaccinated to stay world number one – or he can be stubborn and end his career.”

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Reporting by Sonali Paul, Kirsty Needham and Ian Ransom in Melbourne and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade Writing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel, Kevin Liffey and John Stonestreet Editing by Gareth Jones, John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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