Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has canceled Djokovic’s visa for the second time amid a public outcry over violations of COVID rules.
Novak Djokovic is back in custody in Australia, after authorities tore up his visa for a second time and declared the unvaccinated tennis star a threat to the public.
The world’s top-ranked tennis player surrendered to officials in Melbourne for an interview around 8am local time on Saturday (21:00 GMT Friday), following an injunction issued Friday night.
Australian Border Force (ABF) officers escorted the 34-year-old to his attorney’s offices for an online hearing in Federal Court at 10:15 a.m. local time on Saturday (23:15 GMT Friday).
His case is now moving to the Court of Appeal and a hearing is scheduled for Sunday.
Just two days before the Australian Open kicks off, the world number one is once again fighting against detention and deportation – the latest development in a major row over the status of the COVID-19 vaccine.
This is the second attempt by the Australian government to deport Djokovic, one of the world’s most notorious COVID-19 vaccine skeptics.
The 34-year-old Serbian had used the medical exemption to enter Australia earlier this month, hoping to compete for his 21st Grand Slam title at the World Open.
Amid popular protests, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government canceled Djokovic’s visa on arrival.
“Manipulation of the system”
Many Australians – who have suffered from prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions – believe Djokovic played with the system to sidestep the requirement to introduce a vaccine.
But the government was humiliated when a judge returned Djokovic’s visa and allowed him to stay in the country.
This time around, the government has invoked extraordinary – and difficult to challenge – executive powers to declare it a threat to public health and safety.
Government lawyers are expected to argue that Djokovic’s presence is stirring anti-vaccine sentiment in Australia amid the tidal wave of Omicron infection.
They are also expected to say that Djokovic will not comply with COVID-19 regulations, which poses a public health risk.
The tennis player contracted COVID-19 in mid-December and, according to his own account, failed to isolate him despite knowing he was infected.
Public records show that he attended a stamp unveiling ceremony, a youth tennis event, and gave a media interview around the time he tested positive.
I don’t care if they leave Djokovic or not. Much more important is for people to understand how this system works and how refugees have been treated by this system, the Minister of Immigration can even veto the courts https://t.co/JCuuzJND5u
– Behrouz Boochani January 14, 2022
In a statement, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the government was “strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic”, citing the “health and good order reasons” for the decision to once again cancel Djokovic’s visa.
“It is in the public interest to do so,” Hawke said.
The government has agreed not to extradite Djokovic until the hearing is over, attorney Stephen Lloyd said at an emergency late-night federal court hearing on Friday.
Djokovic is the number one seed at the Australian Open and has won the tournament nine times. He was training just hours before Hawke’s decision was announced.
It is not clear if Djokovic would choose to stay and fight the issue if he believed he was unable to compete at the Australian Open.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday accused Australia of “mistreating” the country’s biggest star and national hero.
“If you wanted to prevent Novak Djokovic from winning his 10th title in Melbourne, why didn’t you bring him back right away, why didn’t you tell him it was impossible to get a visa?” Vucic said on Instagram.
“Novak, we stand by you!”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed the decision, saying: “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected.”
The cancellation of the visa effectively meant that Djokovic was banned from obtaining a new Australian visa for three years, except under exceptional circumstances, which led to his exclusion from one of the four Grand Slam tournaments during that time.
He is currently associated with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles each.