Double-fault: Visa revoked again, Djokovic faces deportation

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for the second time, the latest twist in the ongoing saga. on whether the No. 1 ranked tennis player will be able to compete at the Australian Open despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said on Friday that he used his ministerial discretion to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds, just three days before play begins at the Australian Open, where Djokovic has won a record nine of his 20 titles. of Grand Slam.

Djokovic’s lawyers were expected to appeal in the Federal Circuit and Family Court, which they already did successfully last week on procedural grounds after his visa was first canceled when he landed at a Melbourne airport.

Deportation from Australia can result in a three-year ban on returning to the country, although this can be waived depending on the circumstances.

Hawke said he canceled the visa for “reasons of health and good order, on the grounds that it was in the public interest to do so.” His statement added that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Morrison himself welcomed Djokovic’s pending deportation. The whole episode has struck a nerve in Australia, and particularly in the state of Victoria, where locals went through hundreds of days of lockdown during the worst of the pandemic and there is a vaccination rate among adults of more than 90%.

Australia is currently facing a massive increase in virus cases driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant. On Friday, the nation reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in the state of Victoria. Although many infected people are not getting as sick as in previous outbreaks, the increase continues to put a huge strain on the health system, with more than 4,400 people hospitalized. It is also causing disruption to workplaces and supply chains.

“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for all Australians, but we have stood together and saved lives and livelihoods. … 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.”

Everyone at the Australian Open, including the players, their support teams and spectators, must be vaccinated against the disease caused by the coronavirus. Djokovic is not vaccinated and had sought a medical exemption on the grounds that he had COVID-19 in December.

That waiver was approved by the Victorian state government and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa to travel. But the Australian Border Force refused the waiver and canceled his visa when he landed in Melbourne on January 5.

Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before a judge reversed that decision on Monday. That ruling allowed Djokovic to move freely around Australia and he has been practicing at Melbourne Park every day to prepare to play in a tournament he has won each of the last three years.

He had a practice session originally scheduled for mid-afternoon Friday at Rod Laver Arena, the tournament’s main arena, but he postponed it to the morning and ended several hours before Hawke’s decision was announced in the early afternoon. .

After Hawke’s visa cancellation, the media began gathering outside the building where Djokovic was reportedly meeting with his lawyers.

An Australian Open spokeswoman said tournament organizers had no immediate comment on the latest development in Djokovic’s situation.

Tennis Australia announced that nine players would hold pre-tournament news conferences on Saturday, and Djokovic’s name was not on the list.

With his legal status still in limbo, Djokovic was placed in the tournament draw in Thursday’s draw, scheduled to face Miomir Kecmanovic in a matchup between Serbs in the first round.

According to Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to withdraw from the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, the No. 5 seed Rublev would take Djokovic’s place in the group and face each other. to Kecmanović.

If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule is released, he would be replaced on the field by what is known as a “lucky loser”: a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but enters the main draw due to exit. from another player before the competition. has begun.

And if Djokovic plays a match, or more, and is then told he can no longer participate in the tournament, his next opponent would simply advance to the next round and there would be no replacement.

Melbourne-based immigration lawyer Kian Bone said Djokovic’s lawyers face an “extremely difficult” task in obtaining court orders over the weekend to allow their client to play next week.

Speaking hours before Hawke’s decision was announced, Bone said: “If he leaves it later than he has now, I think from a strategic standpoint, it’s really crippling Djokovic’s legal team, in terms of what kind of options or remedies could I get. .”

Djokovic’s lawyers would have to go before a judge of the Federal Circuit and Family Court, or a superior judge of the Federal Court, to obtain two urgent orders. An order would be a court order preventing his deportation, like the one he won in court last week.

The second would force Hawke to grant Djokovic a visa to play.

“That second request is almost unprecedented,” Bone said. “Very rarely do courts order a member of the executive government to grant a visa.”

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McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.

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