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Novak Djokovic Disappointed As He’s Deported From Australia

A ten-day saga ended on Sunday with photos of number one seed Novak Djokovic departing from Melbourne on the eve of the Australian Open. Three federal judges upheld a government ruling to revoke the unvaccinated tennis star’s visa a second time on “health and good order” grounds.

The back-and-forth drama that first allowed, then disallowed the Serbian entry into the tournament ended with frustration for the player and for fans of the sport. The 34-year-old has won a record nine Australian Open titles, including the last three consecutive years.

Novak Djokovic celebrating the 2019 Australian Open and 2016 French Open titles.
Peter Menzel/Wikipedia and Zlatko Babic/Flickr

“I am extremely disappointed with the Court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the Minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” Djokovic said in a statement. “I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.”

The turmoil that’s evolved over the past ten days reflects schisms dividing people along political and philosophical boundaries defined by the COVID-19 epidemic. The Serb’s anti-vaccine position, initial exemption, and genuine desire to compete became a microcosm for global disagreement over virus policy. The world’s top-ranked men’s player asserts that all he wanted to do was play — it was not his intention to spark an international debate.

“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love. I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers, and fans all the best for the tournament.”

When news of the decision came out, the Djoker’s primarily Serbian fan base outside the courtroom fell into a quiet pall as the final axe fell for their hero’s possible participation in the 2022 Australian Open. Djokovic’s anti-jab stance may cost him a chance at not only a tenth title, but at establishing himself as the greatest to play the sport.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, however, welcomed “the decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe,” but the country’s government is receiving broad criticism for its mixed communication and indelicate handling of the entire incident.

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How Events Unfolded

Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government originally granted the tennis star a medical exemption to the country’s strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements after testing positive for coronavirus in mid-December. Upon his Tuesday, January 5 arrival, Melbourne authorities detained the unvaccinated Djokovic for eight hours before informing him that his visa had been canceled.

After Djokovic was confined to a hotel quarantine, Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly reinstated his visa the following Monday, January 10 on the grounds that a positive test superseded the country’s vaccination requirement. The judge also ruled that Djokovic deserved more time to consult his lawyers and ordered his release.

A large crowd of supporters showed up to celebrate the decision, gathering outside Djokovic’s attorney’s office to catch a glimpse of the tennis champion. Sporting Serbian shirts and flags and banners, the crowd surrounded a black car exiting the parking lock, dancing on the vehicle and banging on its windows until police broke up the fans with force and pepper spray.

Djokovic was back on practice courts with his team Monday evening, despite a harsh ban on the horizon.

I’m pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened,I want to stay and try to compete @AustralianOpen
I remain focused on that. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans. 👇 pic.twitter.com/iJVbMfQ037

— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 10, 2022

On Thursday, January 13, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his cancellation powers to once again rescind the tennis player’s visa, arguing his presence in the country risked fanning anti-vaccine sentiment.

“Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world,” Hawke said in a press address.

During Sunday’s court hearing before a three-judge panel, Djokovic’s defense team argued that Hawke’s grounds were illogical. Judges, however, ruled not based on Hawke’s reasoning, but based on the legality of the minister’s decision. Chief Justice James Allsop said the ruling came down to whether the minister’s decision was “irrational or legally unreasonable.”

Australian Prime Minister Morrison supported this decision in a media statement.

“This cancellation decision was made on health, safety, and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so. I welcome the decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe,” Morrison said.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s political opponents joined the Serbian government in criticizing officials for letting the situation spiral out of control.

Kevin Rudd, a former Labor prime minister, tweeted that the “political circus” could have been avoided had a visa not been issued in the first place. And Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused the Morrison government of persecuting its native son.

The end of a week-long, political circus – all avoidable had Morrison not issued #Djokovic a visa in the first place. He then tries to look like a hairy chested Howard: ‘we decide who comes here, nobody else’. Meanwhile hospital crisis off the front page. https://t.co/6TNj4Pz9Hl

— Kevin Rudd (@MrKRudd) January 16, 2022

“(Djokovic) came to Australia with a medical exemption proposal and then you were mistreating him for 10 days,” Vucic said. “Why did you do it? Doing a witch hunt against him? This is something that no one can understand.”

Pending further decisions, the tennis star could lose the next three years and three crucial chances to come on top of a tie with peers Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most men’s major titles.

Djokovic’s debacle raises further questions for the 2022 season, as it does for other unvaccinated tennis players. Any non-U.S. citizens competing in an American tournament must be fully vaccinated to enter the country “with only limited exceptions.”

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