The participation of the world number one in the tennis Grand Slam tournament is in doubt as the government tries to revoke his visa.
Novak Djokovic reportedly returned to immigration detention on Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid deportation from Australia for not being vaccinated against COVID-19 was taken to a higher court.
A federal court hearing was scheduled for Sunday, a day before the top-ranked men’s tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion began defending his title in his first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year.
Djokovic was in limbo again a week after winning a legal battle that would allow him to remain in the country.
Here’s a look at the controversial issue and what could happen next:
Many Australians – who have struggled with prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions – say Djokovic has 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.
Immigration Minister Alex Hook said in a letter to Djokovic and his legal team.
What does Djokovic say?
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 at the time he was tested and confirmed to be infected.
Djokovic’s lawyers said on Friday they would say the deportation would only increase anti-vaccine sentiment.
What do other players say?
Controversy overshadowed the traditional Grand Slam event crowd, and players fed the saga.
Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who has tied Djokovic in 20 major titles, told reporters at Melbourne Park, where the event will be played.
German world number three Alexander Zverev said Djokovic was treated unfairly and that Australian authorities may have used the Serb as a political pawn, which Canberra denied.
“Obviously this is not a nice thing for everyone, for him in particular. But don’t question his legacy because of this,” Zverev said.
I mean, he had a visa, right? I don’t think he would have traveled here out of luck without thinking that he would be able to play, with the proper mandate to be in the country. If you were to get the visa, you would think you would play.”
Protesters gathered near the venue of the Australian Open in response to the Serbian tennis star’s treatment. Opponents of vaccination states as well as supporters of Djokovic mixed at the rally.
“He is treated like a criminal, as if he did something bad,” said Knep Yovanovitch. “He came with a valid exemption and now they are trying to pick all these other reasons, and why? The only other reason is to earn political points.”
“I feel ashamed to be Australian,” said Janet White, a Djokovic supporter.