Djokovic appeal to be heard Saturday after Australia cancels visa again

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

The government promised not to deport him until the case was over, although the world’s top-ranked male player was nevertheless ordered to return to pre-deportation detention at 8am (2100 GMT on Friday) on Saturday.

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

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The lawyers said they would argue that Djokovic’s deportation could pose as much a threat to public health, fueling 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 waiver document.

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

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

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

Djokovic, 34 and bidding for a record 21st Grand Slam title, had been told on arrival on January 5 that the medical exemption allowing him to travel was invalid.

He spent several days in immigration detention before that decision was revoked on procedural grounds.

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


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

Judge Anthony Kelly, who reversed the initial cancellation, said the government had agreed not to expel Djokovic until the case was concluded, and the player could leave detention to meet his lawyers and attend hearings. read more

Although Djokovic is publicly against mandatory vaccination, he has not campaigned against vaccination in general.

The controversy has nonetheless intensified a global debate over people’s right to choose whether to get vaccinated, and it has become a tricky political issue for Morrison as he prepares for an election due in May.

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park as questions remain over the legal battle over his visa to play at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 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.

“This is what the Minister is doing by taking this action today. Our strong border protection policy has kept Australians safe.”

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

More than 90% of Australian adults have been vaccinated, and an online poll by the media group News Corp found that 83% favored deportation for Djokovic. read more

His case was not helped by an incorrect entry declaration, which ticked off the box stating that he had not traveled abroad in the two weeks before leaving for Australia.

In fact, he had traveled between Spain and Serbia.

Djokovic blamed his agent for the mistake and also acknowledged that he was not allowed to do an interview and photo shoot for a French newspaper on December 18 while 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 amid sometimes violent protests in Melbourne against a lockdown put in place to contain the spread.


Djokovic’s legal team said the government claimed that if he stayed in Australia, others would be incited to refuse vaccination.

One of his attorneys told the court that this was “absolutely irrational” because Hawke ignored the effect that forcibly removing “this prominent, legally compliant, negligible, medically opposing player” could have on anti-vax sentiment and on the public eye. public order.

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

He was placed first in the draw for the open and will face compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday.

Greece’s number four in the world, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who spoke for Hawke’s decision, said Djokovic “played by his own rules” and made vaccinated players “look like fools”.

In Belgrade, some already appeared to have resigned because Djokovic missed the tournament.

“He is a role model for all of us, but clear rules must be set,” Milan Majstorovic told Reuters TV. “I don’t know how big the political involvement is in this.”

Another passer-by, Ana Bojic, said: “He can either vaccinate to remain number one in the world – 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 Written by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel, Kevin Liffey and John Stonestreet Edited by Gareth Jones, John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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