Novak Djokovic has been deported from Australia after losing a last-ditch court battle—ending a dramatic saga over whether the unvaccinated world no. 1 men’s tennis player could compete in the Australian Open, which begins Monday.
Djokovic boarded a plane to Dubai late Sunday after a court upheld a decision by Alex Hawke, the Australian government minister in charge of immigration, to cancel the Serbian star’s visa on Friday, saying that the vaccine skeptic’s presence in Australia might risk “civil unrest” given that he is a “talisman of anti-vaccination sentiment.” The federal court threw out Djokovic’s challenge of Hawke’s decision on Sunday evening.
The 34-year-old issued a statement on Sunday saying that he was extremely disappointed with the court ruling, but that he respected the court’s decision and would cooperate with authorities in relation to his departure from the country.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, who is facing an election this year, said that he welcomed the decision to keep Australia’s “borders strong and keep Australians safe,” but Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told reporters in Belgrade that the decision was “scandalous.”
The debacle and its stunning plot twists have gripped tennis fans around the world. Djokovic, who won the tournament last year, initially received a visa to enter Australia. But, he was denied entry after landing in Melbourne on Jan. 5 over questions about the legitimacy of a vaccination exemption. A judge reinstated his visa on Jan. 10, but Hawke revoked Djokovic’s visa on Friday, saying that he made the decision in the public interest. The decision also carries a potential three-year ban on being granted additional visas while overseas—meaning the Australian Open, one of the four major tournaments, could be off limits to one of the most successful players in tennis.
The entire saga could easily have been avoided if Djokovic had been fully vaccinated—as 92% of Australians over 16 have been. The 2022 Australian Open requires fans and staffers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and nearly every player in this year’s lineup entered the country with little trouble by showing proof of vaccination. Australian border officials said they were investigating one other player and an official who were also issued medical exemptions.
The Australian government has faced public backlash for letting the unvaccinated tennis star into the country while it fumbles to deal with an explosion of COVID-19 cases. Australia’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are all at levels dramatically higher than anything seen in the first two years of the pandemic, during which the country maintained some of the world’s toughest border controls and also enforced strict lockdowns to stop transmission of the virus.
The government has also faced criticism for flip-flopping, and dragging out a decision on whether Djokovic could remain in the country. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said it should “never have come to this” because Djokovic should not have been granted a visa to enter the country if he was not eligible for a vaccination exemption.
“If you can’t make a decision on Novak Djokovic, goodness me, how are you guys running the country? This is an absolute shambles,” Tasmanian Sen. Jacqui Lambie, a political independent, told an Australian TV network.
Djokovic is also facing criticism for details that have emerged in the last week, including that he provided false visa information and knowingly attended an interview while infected with COVID-19.
The tennis star posted a statement to his Instagram account on Wednesday saying that he went to an interview and a photoshoot in Belgrade after being informed that he had tested positive for the virus because he “didn’t want to let the journalist down.” “On reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” he said.
Djokovic also reportedly traveled across Europe before departing for Australia, despite declaring on his visa application that he had not traveled in the 14 days before he left for Australia. Djokovic chalked the declaration up as an administrative error by his agent.
Meanwhile, a Serbian embassy official told local newspaper the Herald Sun on Friday that Djokovic has a diplomatic passport. “Djokovic, as our most recognizable representative in the world, is the holder of a diplomatic passport, which should, in diplomatic theory and consular practice, guarantee him adequate treatment when crossing borders,” she reportedly said.
The French sports minister is already on record saying that Djokovic will be allowed to play in the French Open in June.
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