For Novak Djokovic, the Serbian tennis star, his visa was revoked for the second time by the Australian authorities on Friday. the latest dizzying volley in a drawn-out drama about his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke said in a statement that he was canceling Djokovic’s visa on the grounds of “health and good order”, adding that it was in the public interest to do so.
Hawke took the action four to dawn after Djokovic won a legal victory that freed him from immigration detention, where he had been held since arriving at a Melbourne airport last week.
The minister gave no further details about his decision to revoke the visa, other than the Australian government’s commitment to protecting its country’s borders during the pandemic.
It was unclear what would happen next, with the Australian Open starting in three days. Djokovic could return to court to try to overturn the decision, but legal experts said he would have little chance of success after winning his first round in court on limited procedural grounds.
Mary Crock, a law professor at the University of Sydney, said it would be “very, very difficult” for Djokovic to win an appeal. “The rules of natural justice and procedure do not apply,” she said. So the only way he could appeal would be to prove that there is no public interest basis on which the visa could have been canceled.
A federal investigation led by Hawke had revealed that Djokovic had provided false information about the documents he gave to border officials last week when he tried to enter the country.
Those documents did not state that Djokovic, who lives in Monte Carlo, traveled between Serbia and Spain in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia.
In a social media post on Wednesday, Djokovic acknowledged the inaccuracies and answered questions about his movements in the days before and after his positive test for the coronavirus on December 16. That test result allowed him to get an exemption from state health officials in Victoria to play in the Australian Open.
Djokovic’s statement read both as a desperate plea for leniency and as an explanation for irresponsible behavior by a top athlete who is not used to being held accountable. He said a member of his support team made a “human error” while filling out his paperwork. He also said he made a bad decision to go ahead with a personal interview and photo shoot with a French sports publication after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Franck Ramella, a reporter with the French sports newspaper L’Equipe, wrote this week that when conducting the interview on December 18, he was unaware that Djokovic had recently tested positive for the corona virus.
Djokovic said he did not know he had tested positive when he attended a tennis event in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, on December 17, where he presented prizes to children. But the report of his positive test shows that he took the test on December 16 at 1:05 PM and received the positive result seven hours later.
“I just want to have the chance to compete against the best players in the world and perform in front of one of the best crowds in the world,” Djokovic said in the post.
Earlier this week, it looked like Djokovic could, even though he would most likely be the only unvaccinated player in the men’s tournament. On Thursday, he was installed as the number 1 seed in the men’s bracket.
On Monday afternoon, a judge ruled that Djokovic had been treated unfairly upon his arrival late on January 5 at an airport in Melbourne, where he was questioned for hours and denied the promised chance to contact his lawyers or Australian Open officials.
The judge ordered that Djokovic’s visa be reinstated, releasing him from the refugee and asylum seekers hotel where he had been held for five days and clearing a path for him to compete for a record 21st Grand Slam tournament title.
Australian tennis officials, in consultation with state officials, had granted Djokovic the vaccination waiver to participate in the tournament, which starts Monday in Melbourne. But border officials canceled his visa with the support of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and said Djokovic remained subject to the requirement that anyone entering the country be fully vaccinated.
The court’s ruling did not end the case, but shifted the focus to Djokovic’s supporting documents, the legitimacy of his coronavirus test and fundamental questions about what Djokovic knew about his diagnosis and when he knew it.
Legally, Hawke, the immigration minister, can cancel a visa based on character or if he believes the details are false, or if he believes the visa recipient poses a health or safety risk. Hawke made his decision as Australia is in the midst of its worst battle with the coronavirus.
Mike Ives reporting contributed.