UPDATE (1/10): An Australian judge has overturned Novak Djokovic’s visa cancellation, leading to the tennis star’s release from immigration detention, although it remains unclear if he will compete in the Australian Open.
As The New York Times reports, Judge Anthony Kelly found that Djokovic had been treated unfairly after his arrival in Melbourne: While Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against Covid-19, had received a vaccination exemption from the Australian Open, he was detained by border authorities last week and his visa was canceled before he could speak with tournament organizers and his lawyers. Despite overturning the cancellation, lawyers for the Australian government warned that the country’s immigration minister could still cancel his visa, which would also carry a three-year ban on entering the country.
Djokovic, however, seemed optimistic that he would be able to stay in Australia and compete in the tournament. On Instagram, he wrote, “I am pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened in the past week, I want to stay and to try to compete at the Australian Open. 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. For now I cannot say more but THANK YOU for standing with me through all this and encouraging me to stay strong.”
Novak Djokovic will not compete at the Australian Open this month after his visa was rejected at the Tellumarine Airport in Melbourne, The Guardian reports. The Number One-ranked male tennis champion claimed he had initially received a controversial “medical exemption” from tournament organizers.
Late Wednesday night, Djokovic was questioned for several hours at passport control at the tournament’s host city airport. By Thursday morning, the Australian Border Force confirmed the tennis player was not allowed to remain in Australia.
“The ABF will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements,” Australian Border Force said in a statement. “The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled.
“Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia. The ABF can confirm Mr. Djokovic had access to his phone.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Djokovic seemed confident that he would be able to play. “I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission,” he posted on Instagram alongside his luggage at the airport. “Let’s go 2022 !!”
The specific “exemption permission” he refers to is unclear, but Djokovic has been an outspoken anti-vaxxer. “Personally, I am opposed to vaccination, and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine,” he said during a livestream in 2020.
On Thursday, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison spoke about the decision to reject Djokovic’s entry. “Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders,” Morrison tweeted. “No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.”
Australia has had strict policies since the beginning of the pandemic, which had been heralded as a successful approach to stemming Covid-19. The country requires all people entering to be vaccinated or quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Throughout the pandemic, the country has weathered lengthy, months-long lockdowns. Late last year, it opened its international borders. While Australia has had around 2,200 Covid-19 related deaths, since opening borders and with the Omicron surge, cases are on the rise.
The Victoria state government officials said it did not support his visa application and it had been reported that the visa he used to enter Australia does not grant exemptions for unvaccinated applicants.
“The federal government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia,” Jaala Pulford, Victoria’s acting sports minister, wrote on Twitter. “We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.
“We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the federal government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors,” Pulford added.
Djokovic was looking to win his 21st grand slam singles title, which would surpass Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s records who are all tied at 20, at the tournament that begins on Jan. 17. It’s unclear if he may try to appeal the decision.