On Sunday, Jan. 16, a court decision to accept the Australian government’s ruling to cancel tennis star Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa has forced him to leave Australia, depriving Djokovic of his chance to compete in the Australian Open.
Djokovic’s hopes to maintain his championship title have been dashed.
Deportation and loss
At the end of the drama, the final decision was made after the Australian Federal Court, occupied by three judges, unanimously dismissed Djokovic’s appeal to overturn his visa cancellation.
The Serbian tennis player previously appealed Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s use of personal powers to have his visa canceled. Citing concerns of inspiring anti-vaccination sentiment within the country, Hawke stated that Djokovic could be “a threat to public order.”
However, according to The Guardian, Hawke agreed with several factors in favor of Djokovic, according to sentiments expressed in documents by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI) and a “supportive letter” from Tennis Australia.
Ultimately, these did very little to change the immigration minister’s mind, particularly after proof that Djokovic had delivered a “false answer” to a question about traveling abroad 14 days before coming to Australia.
According to Chief Justice James Allsop, the court ruling was “based on the lawfulness and legality of the minister’s decision in the context of the rounds of appeal lodged by Djokovic’s team,” Reuters reported.
“It is no part of the function of the court to decide upon the merits or wisdom of the decision,” he said.
Federal agents escorted Djokovic and his team to the airport in Melbourne, where the team took an Emirates flight to Dubai.
How Djokovic’s case unfolded
Prior to the court ruling, Djokovic was already in hot water for allegedly violating health regulations set by the Australian government, despite the fact that he was included in a list of exemptions provided by Tennis Australia.
Djokovic had previously tested positive for COVID-19 after he participated in a charity event in Belgrade. However, on Dec. 30, Djokovic was given a temporary medical exemption from Australia’s vaccination requirements, granted by an independent medical panel and reviewed by the government of the state of Victoria – the location of the Australian Open.
On Jan. 4, after announcing his arrival in Australia, Djokovic was met with criticism by the Australian people, who have endured some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions in the world.
Djokovic landed in Melbourne on Jan. 5, but was detained at the airport a day later. He was sent to be questioned and then forced to stay in a hotel with asylum seekers.
Previously, Djokovic’s travel declaration for entry into Australia stated that he did not travel in the 14 days prior to coming to the country. However, his own social media posts and several eyewitnesses apparently showed that he was in Spain within the given time period before arriving in Australia.
Suddenly, in a court hearing, a judge overturned the government’s decision to cancel the visa, stating that it was “unreasonable.” Hawke stepped in to use his personal powers to deport Djokovic, forcing him back into the immigration detention hotel.
Djokovic said that he was “extremely disappointed” with the court ruling, but claimed that he would respect the decision and accept his departure.
“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” Djokovic said in a statement.
Upon hearing the decision, Djokovic’s family also shared their disappointment concerning the ruling.
“We are very disappointed by a federal court ruling and the fact that Novak has to leave Australia,” the family said in a statement to Serbian media. “Despite the scandalous behavior towards Novak, we believed that sport would win.”
Speaking to reporters in Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic expressed how “unbelievable” the “contradictory” court decisions were made so quickly.
“I am disappointed… I think it demonstrated how the rule of law is functioning, or better to say not functioning, in some countries.” she said, calling the decision “scandalous,” Reuters reported.
According to a report by ESPN, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called Australia’s decision a “farce with a lot of lies.”
Serbian sports minister Vanja Udovicic wrote words of support for Djokovic on Twitter.
“That is and will be forever Novak Djokovic!” the post read. “Everything else is nonsense and shame, absurdity, and a display of hypocrisy! Legend, Pride of Serbia, We are with you!”
Atop the Belgrade Tower, a light show was shown on the walls of the building, delivering words of encouragement for Djokovic by using his nickname “Nole” with the national colors of Serbia.
On the contrary, Australians are said to be “thrilled” by Djokovic’s deportation, as a poll conducted by local media showed that 83 percent of 60,000 respondents supported the idea of kicking the star out.
Spanish tennis champion Rafael Nadal said on Jan. 10, “Regardless of whether or not I agree on some things with Djokovic, without any doubt, justice has spoken.”
“Of course, I don’t like the situation that is happening. In some way, I feel sorry for [Djokovic]. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision.” Nadal added.
Nadal said he empathized with many Australians, understanding their anger and the “sacrifices” made during the pandemic.
Greek player Stefanos Tsitsipas said that Djokovic “wants to follow his own rules,” and added that very few would dare follow his example.
While Australian player Nick Kyrgios believed that everyone should follow the rules, he did feel sympathetic towards Djokovic’s troubles.
“I feel quite embarrassed as an Australian athlete that’s seen what this guy has done for us and the sport,” he said on Instagram.
Worse still for Djokovic, the French government has also recently approved a new vaccine law that now requires all athletes to be vaccinated before they are allowed into public places, including stadiums.
“This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson,” the French sports ministry said.