While almost missing out on his chance to compete in the Australian Open on Jan. 17, tennis giant Novak Djokovic has been freed from detention in Melbourne after his visa was canceled over health violations.
However, the threat of deportation still looms over him as the Australian government has warned that he may still be thrown out of the country.
One court to another
On Jan. 7, after being held in detention for allegedly violating Australia’s health policies, Djokovic was set free after a judge overturned his court case, which sought to cancel his visa due to not following certain COVID-19 health regulations upon his arrival in Australia, despite the fact that he was able to provide medical exemptions.
On Monday, the tennis star was allowed to practice for his upcoming matches in the Australian Open on Jan. 17. He appeared on court in Melbourne Park on Tuesday, where he hopes to defend his Australian Open title.
“I’m pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation.,” Djokovic wrote on Twitter. “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.”
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After his case was over, Djokovic’s family held a conference at home in Belgrade, Serbia, sending out their cheers and praises. Djokovic’s mother Dijana called the court ruling “the biggest victory in his career, bigger than all his grand slams.” His brother Djordie said “truth and justice came to the light,” thanking the Australian justice system.
However, the Australian government warns that Djokovic could still be deported and have his visa canceled, threatening to deny the star his chance to defend his title.
After undergoing elbow surgery in 2018, the excruciating pain he felt made him seek out “alternative treatments over conventional medicine,” prompting him to become one of the biggest skeptics of vaccines in the tennis world.
When the pandemic began to spread, Djokovic expressed that “he would struggle” with the vaccine mandates for tennis players going abroad, and he did not wish to be forced to get vaccinated.
However, such a decision spawned criticism after Djokovic and several other players tested positive with the virus during a charity tournament held in June 2020.
Australian player Nick Kyrgios called the decision to hold the event “boneheaded.”
“Boneheaded decision to go ahead with the ‘exhibition’ speedy recovery fellas, but that’s what happens when you disregard all protocols. This [is not a joke].” he wrote on Twitter.
Last year, government officials announced that players could apply for medical exemptions from vaccination and, together with organizer Tennis Australia, allowed experts to “review applications for medical exemptions for players and staff” coming to the Australian Open.
Djokovic was already listed for approval by two independent medical panels made by Tennis Australia, giving the player the time to post on Instagram regarding the “exemption permission.”
However, on Dec. 5, Djokovic was detained and interrogated about his exemption. Border officials denied documents given to them, based on the fact that Djokovic caught the coronavirus again last month. His visa was canceled as he did not provide the necessary evidence to meet the demands, border officials said.
Australia’s policy dictates that “non-citizens or non-residents” without visas, or those who had their visas canceled, are barred from entry unless they have received full vaccinations. Medical exemptions are allowed, but in Djokovic’s case, it is claimed that he did not provide the information needed.
Djokovic was held in the Park Hotel in Carlton – a place where asylum seekers have been held for years.
Following a policy set by the Australian government, he later declared that he had not traveled for 14 days before coming to the country. However, social media posts apparently showed that he was in Belgrade on Dec. 25, 2021, and then in Spain on Dec.31 – well within the timeline stated.
Spain’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares claimed that he had no knowledge of Djokovic’s whereabouts in the country.
“We have not been contacted by the Australian government to request such documentation,” he said.
The Serbian government responded in support of Djokovic, as the prime minister Ana Brnabić spoke with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the border policy.
What happens now?
Despite being freed from the case, Djokovic could still face deportation a second time as Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is considering using his personal powers to cancel his visa again.
The Australian Open kicks off on Jan. 17, with Djokovic aiming to defend his three-year reign as champion of the tournament.
Spanish player Rafa Nadal called the situation “a circus” and claimed that the “fairest decision” was made.
Despite supporting vaccination, Nick Kyrgios said he was “embarrassed as an Australian athlete,” sympathizing with Djokovic and his contributions to the tennis world.
Former American player Pam Shriver expressed that the controversy surrounding Djokovic was not over.
Public opinion in Australia so far has been against Djokovic, given that the city of Melbourne saw the longest coronavirus lockdown in the world and that the state of Victoria has the most fatalities in Australia due to COVID-19.
“If he plays, the booing will be deafening.” Shriver wrote on Twitter.
In an interview with Reuters, Melbourne local Keith Moore expressed, “We’ve had to go through vaccination protocols and lockdowns for such a long time and he swans in and pretty much does what he likes because he’s the [world’s] best tennis player.”