Djokovic returns to the field despite doubts about his visa
Novak Djokovic trained on Tuesday, the day after he left a migrant holding facility, focused on his defense of the Australian Open title despite the fact that he could still be deported for not having been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Serbian tennis player went to Melbourne Park, the venue of the tournament, just hours after winning a legal battle on Monday and thus remaining in the country.
What is disputed is whether the number one in the world ranking has a valid exemption from the rules that require being vaccinated to enter Australia, given that he recently recovered from a COVID infection. A judge ruled in favor of his permanence on Monday, but the immigration minister could still expel him.
New questions also arose on Tuesday about the immigration form indicating that he had not traveled in the 14 days prior to the flight to Australia. A Monte Carlo resident, Djokovic was seen in Spain and Serbia for a period of two weeks.
The tug of war over whether Djokovic has complied with Australian guidelines has caused a stir in the country and the rest of the world. When the tennis player who expressed skepticism about vaccines was initially granted a visa to travel to Melbourne, many complained that he had received special treatment in a country that imposed strict border controls during the pandemic.
But amid much information confusion about the rules, others have pointed out that Djokovic became a scapegoat for an Australian government that has come under fire for its recent handling of the pandemic.
The nine-time Australian Slam champion returned for closed-door training on Tuesday, and only his support team was allowed on court Rod Laver.
The Australian Open posted his draw for the tournament, with Djokovic seeded first in the men’s singles draw.
Although he is trying to make up for lost time in the four days he spent confined to an immigration detention hotel, Djokovic is aware that he could see his visa revoked again.
The Australian immigration minister, Alex Hawke, is studying exercising his power to deport the tennis player under a different law, evaluating a medical exemption that Djokovic presented to fly to Melbourne without being vaccinated and the information presented in his visa application.
A decision was not expected on Tuesday, according to the Australian Associated Press news agency, after Hawke’s office issued a statement indicating the matter was being considered “in line with due process.”
Djokovic shared a picture of himself with three members of his team at Melbourne Park on social media early Tuesday.
“I am satisfied and grateful that the judge revoked the cancellation of my visa. Despite everything that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete in the Australian Open. I’m still focused on that, ”Djokovic tweeted. “I traveled here to play one of the biggest events that we have in front of the fantastic fans.”
A border official canceled Djokovic’s visa at Melbourne airport last Thursday, hours after he arrived in Australia to compete in the tournament.
A judge restored his visa on Monday and ordered Djokovic’s release from the hotel where he was being held, due to procedural errors by border officials at the airport.
The state government of Victoria and Tennis Australia, which hosts the tournament, granted Djokovic a medical exemption from their vaccination requirements because he was infected with the coronavirus last month.
But the Australian Border Force refused to grant it an exemption from national vaccination regulations for travelers without Australian citizenship arriving in the country.
The agency alleged that a contagion in the previous six months only exempts vaccines in cases where the coronavirus caused serious illness.
There were also new doubts about Djokovic’s request to enter the country, after documents published by the Federal Circuit Court showed that he had told authorities that he had not traveled in the 14 days prior to his flight to Australia.
Monte Carlo resident Djokovic landed in Melbourne shortly before midnight on Wednesday and answered “no” to the question about previous trips on his official form.
But the reigning Australian Open champion was recorded playing tennis on the streets of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on December 25, and training in Spain, all within the 14-day window. He traveled to Australia from Marbella, Spain.
Djokovic told border agents that Tennis Australia had completed the statement on his behalf, but the agent who canceled his visa indicated that the sports organization would have done so “based on the information provided by the visa holder.”
It was not clear if that document was mentioned during the hearing on Monday.
The form indicates that providing false or misleading information is a felony and there are applicable civil penalties.
Since the visa was canceled, Czech tennis player Renata Voráčová and an unidentified European tennis official have been deported for similar reasons.
The prime ministers of Australia and Serbia commented on the matter earlier on Tuesday.
The legal battle has divided opinions and sparked strong support for the winner of 20 Grand Slam tournaments in his native Serbia.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Serbian counterpart Ana Brnabić agreed in their conversation to stay abreast of the 34-year-old athlete’s visa situation, according to Morrison’s office.
“The Prime Minister explained our non-discriminatory border policy and its role in protecting Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Morrison’s office said in a statement. “They both agreed to keep in touch on the matter.”
Brnabić asked Morrison to ensure that the tennis star received dignified treatment, according to the Serbian public radio and television station.
“The prime minister placed special emphasis on the importance of training conditions and physical preparation for the next competition, taking into account that Novak Djokovic was not allowed to train in the previous days,” said RTS.
The conservative Morrison government has accused Tennis Australia of the debacle, which ministers accuse of misinforming players about vaccination requirements in Australia. But according to press reports, Tennis Australia had asked the Department of the Interior to check the visa documentation of Djokovic and other players before they embarked. The department did not.
Australian opposition Homeland spokeswoman Kristina Keneally attributed the confusion to the government’s lack of planning.
For Djokovic to be deported would do “incredible harm to Australia,” Keneally told Seven Network television, while “if he stays it does incredible harm to our tough border laws and is a real insult to the Australians who made the hard effort of quarantines and vaccinations ”.
The controversy surrounding Djokovic has made Australia “look like a joke” in the eyes of the world, Keneally added.
Daniel Andrews, prime minister of the state of Victoria, where the tournament is being held, said the federal government changed its border regulations in recent months.
“When we talked about exemptions earlier, you will recall that Minister Hawke had said that he hoped that if you had not received two doses of vaccine, you would not enter the country whether you played tennis or did anything else,” said Andrews, who at like Keneally he is part of the center-left Labor Party.
“It turned out that that was not the position of the Commonwealth government and that they have let in people who had not had two doses of vaccine,” added Andrews.