Djokovic in Australian Open draw as visa saga continues

Melbourne Australia –

Novak Djokovic remained in limbo even after being included in the Australian Open draw on Thursday, with the tennis star still awaiting a government decision on his deportation for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Despite the cloud hanging over Djokovic’s ability to compete, the Australian Open organizers have included the top seed in the draw. He is scheduled to play his Serbian colleague Miomir Kekmanovic, ranked No. 78 in the world, in the opening round next week.

Djokovic’s No. 1 visa was revoked upon arrival in Melbourne last week when he was refused a vaccination exemption, but he won a legal battle on procedural grounds that allowed him to remain in the country.

Immigration Minister Alex Hook has been looking into the matter since a judge returned Djokovic’s visa on Monday.

Expectations were raised about a pending decision when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called a news conference this afternoon after the national cabinet meeting. Speculation mounted when the tournament draw was pushed back 75 minutes to a time after Morrison’s press conference.

The wait continued after both events ended, as Morrison referred questions about Djokovic to the immigration minister.

“These are personal ministerial powers that Secretary Hook can exercise and I do not intend to make any further comment at this time,” Morrison said.

Australian Open director Craig Tiley also declined to comment after the tournament’s draw ceremony, which begins on Monday.

Djokovic, 34, has been trying to focus his attention on the court in the four days since his release from immigration detention. He performed a practice at Rod Laver Arena, his fourth this week, in the middle of the afternoon.

He was in court of practice on Wednesday when a statement posted to his social media accounts admitted that the Australian Travel Authorization form contained incorrect information.

In the statement, Djokovic blamed “human error” by his support team for failing to announce he had traveled in the two-week period before entering Australia.

Providing false information on the form may be grounds for deportation. That could lead to penalties of up to a three-year ban from entering Australia, a frightening prospect for a player who has won nearly half of his 20 Grand Slam titles here.

Djokovic admitted the loopholes when he sought to clear up what he called “persistent misinformation” about his movements after being injured last month. It also raised questions about his public appearances in Serbia last month, particularly a media interview he attended despite knowing positively.

It was another development in the saga over whether the athlete should be allowed to remain in Australia despite not being vaccinated.

The initial news that Djokovic had been granted an exemption from strict vaccination rules to enter the country sparked a protest, and the ensuing dispute has since overshadowed the run-up to the Australian Open.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said most Australians would not agree with the nine-times Australian Open champion and defender, the Australian Open champion, coming to Melbourne to compete in violation of the country’s strict quarantine rules.

“Most of us thought that because Mr Djokovic had not been cut twice that he would be asked to leave,” Joyce said. “Well, that was our opinion, but it was not the opinion of the court.”

“The vast majority of Australians … did not like the idea that another individual, whether it was a tennis player or … the King of Spain or the Queen of England, could come here and have a different set of rules for what everyone has to deal with.”

Controversy over Djokovic’s presence in Australia is raging against the backdrop of a spike in COVID-19 infections across the country.

The state of Victoria, which hosts the Australian Open, on Thursday eased seven-day isolation rules for close contacts of infected people in sectors including education and transportation to limit the number of employees who stay away from work.

The state recorded 37,169 new cases in the last 24 hours Thursday, as well as 25 deaths and 953 hospitalizations. With cases rising, the Victorian state government moved to limit ticket sales for tennis in an effort to reduce the risk of transmission.

Djokovic’s visa status has been discussed since his arrival more than a week ago, after he posted on social media that he had been granted the waiver.

The dispute revolves around whether he has a valid exemption from the strict rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia since he recently recovered from COVID-19.

His exemption from competition was approved by the state government of Victoria and Tennis Australia, the tournament’s organiser. Apparently this allowed him to get a visa to travel.

But the Australian Border Force refused the waiver and canceled his visa on arrival before a federal judge overturned that decision. Government lawyers said the infection was only grounds for exemption in cases where the coronavirus had caused serious illness – although it was not clear why the visa was issued if that was the case.

If Djokovic’s visa is revoked, his lawyer can return to court to apply for an injunction preventing him from forcing him to leave the country.

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McGurk reported from Canberra, Australia.

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