Australia cancels Djokovic visa again, sending him back to immigration detention

Novak Djokovic faces possible deportation from Australia after the country’s immigration minister canceled the unvaccinated tennis star’s visa for the second time on Friday, citing public health reasons.

The decision is the latest twist in a saga that has attracted global headlines and become a flashpoint in the debate over Covid-19 vaccination mandates. It could end the Serb’s bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, which starts on Monday.

Djokovic’s lawyers moved quickly to seek an injunction that would prevent him from being forced to leave the country. The Australian government ordered him to return to immigration detention at 8am local time on Saturday (4pm ET on Friday), albeit with permission to meet with his lawyers at their offices.

At a court hearing hours after the decision was announced, which was viewed on YouTube by nearly 60,000 people, Judge Anthony Kelly said he would work to resolve the case as quickly as possible.

Novak Djokovic during a practice session in Melbourne on Friday.Martin Tower / AFP – Getty Images

In a decision likely to have wide-ranging sporting and diplomatic consequences, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said in a statement Friday morning that he had used his discretionary powers to cancel the visa again “on the basis that it was in the public interest.” do it”.

The government is “strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the covid-19 pandemic,” Hawke added.

Djokovic, 34, got his visa back earlier this week thanks to Kelly, who ordered his release after days in immigration detention.

The men’s tennis No. 1 had his visa revoked for the first time last week after border officials rejected his request for a medical exemption when he arrived in Melbourne. But Djokovic won a legal appeal that allowed him to stay in the country and practice even as the threat of deportation hung over his head.

If Djokovic’s offer to stay in Australia after this second cancellation fails, he may not be able to reapply for a visa for three years.

NBC News has reached out to Djokovic’s representatives for comment.

Djokovic admitted on Wednesday that his travel form to enter Australia included a false statement and that he had not immediately isolated himself after testing positive for coronavirus in Serbia last month, adding to the scrutiny of Australian officials and the media. of communication from all over the world.

The country’s strict border regulations require all non-Australian arrivals to be vaccinated to enter the country. All Australian Open players, staff, officials and fans must also be fully vaccinated to enter the tournament venue.

Court documents earlier this week confirmed that the tennis star is not vaccinated, but Djokovic argued that he received a medical exemption to enter the country because he was diagnosed with covid-19 in Serbia last month and has since recovered.

Djokovic spent four days in immigration detention between asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants as he awaited the verdict on his visa appeal. Monday’s court decision was silent on whether his reason for the medical exemption was valid.

Tournament organizers still entered Djokovic into Thursday’s draw as he remained in limbo, although he was delayed amid the uncertainty.

The top seed continued to train at the Rod Laver Arena as he looked to refocus on tennis and his bid to become the all-time leader in men’s Grand Slam singles titles.

The saga surrounding Djokovic has left many Australians outraged as the omicron variant fuels a new wave of cases in the country after months of severe restrictions on public movement.

The furor has rocked the tennis world and overshadowed the run-up to the Australian Open, thrusting the sport into the center of global debate over government restrictions to combat the pandemic.

He also garnered strong support for Djokovic in his native Serbia, where his family and the country’s leaders criticized Australia’s treatment of the national sporting icon.

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