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Sydney – “Rules are rules”, according to For Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison – but if you’re the best tennis player in the world, the rules don’t necessarily apply.
The world has been eagerly waiting for Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawk to reveal whether he will use his personal power to deport Novak Djokovic and ban him from Australia for three years, or allow the World No. 1 to remain in Melbourne to fight for what could be his 10th Australian Open title.
In the days since a judge ordered Djokovic to be released from hotel custody, after Australia tried to deport a COVID vaccine skeptic upon his arrival in Melbourne, Djokovic admitted to breaching Serbian isolation rules and actually admitted he lied on the Australian travel authorization form.
While this should make relocation a no-brainer on paper, here’s what weighs Hawk down as he considers intervention…
The Morrison government’s election-winning strategy has a name: the “pub test.” Think ‘Britain’s Man of Clapham Omnibus’ but there are three beers inside, and his opinions are constantly polled about his opinion of the Prime Minister.
With a federal election likely a few months away, Morrison’s centre-right Liberal Party is on high alert for anything that could upset the average Australian.
The rules for traveling to Australia right now are clear: you must have a visa, a recent negative COVID test, be fully vaccinated, and honestly fill out your travel declaration. Djokovic has not been vaccinated, and his form has incorrectly stated that he had not traveled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia.
While Djokovic was being held in the hotel, he challenged his visa revocation, the Australian prime minister and his colleagues were very keen to highlight his failures.
“Rules are rules and there are no special cases,” Morrison declared at a January 6 news conference, and the Australian Border Force’s mission is to “enforce the rules to everyone – and the Morrison government will always support them to do so,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews added last week. “This is the only way we can ensure justice for all – especially those Australians and their families who have made sacrifices over the past two years in order to adhere to the various rules of the pandemic.”
But the ruling by Federal Court Judge Anthony Kelly turned the situation into a headache for the government. While Kelly ordered Djokovic’s release, he did so for administrative reasons – not because the tennis champ’s visa was valid, but because the government had to admit he had not been given enough time to respond to the visa revocation.
At that point, Morrison and colleagues. They could have held back, claiming it was out of their hands and Djokovic was allowed to play. But instead, the government sought to save face by noting that Hooke still had the personal power to step in and expel Djokovic from the country.
Three days later, with the Australian Open draw now over and Djokovic in it and the tournament set to start on Monday, Hawk’s inaction is painful.
If he backs down on Friday and lets Djokovic stay, the government looks weak; Voters remember that rules don’t matter if you’re rich and famous; Morrison’s hardline stance on immigration is being undermined at the worst possible time.
So why was Djokovic not on the next plane back?
The Biloila family case
One possible reason why Hawke was reluctant to use his power to intervene personally is the so-called Biloela family affair. A family of Tamil asylum seekers – the Murugappans – have fought for years to be allowed to return to the Australian town of Biloela in the Australian state of Queensland, after the federal government rejected their asylum application on the grounds that the parents had traveled to Australia by boat and ordered them to return to Sri Lanka.
the The Biloela community rallied around the family, and Hawke’s eager campaign to intervene, using his personal power to allow the family to return to town. So far, Hawke has largely abstained from voting, despite the family’s harrowing plight.
Now, the Djokovic case is again bringing attention to Murugappans – and if Hawke chooses to step in, even if it is to deport the tennis star, it highlights the fact that he could easily do so in Biloila case too.
And there’s another major reason why Hooke might be hesitant.
The fate of the Australian Open
The Melbourne Grand Slam is among Australia’s most cherished sporting events, attracting thousands of visitors and contributing more than A$380 million (about €242 million) to the Victorian economy in the pre-pandemic period of 2020.
Djokovic is the best men’s tennis player in the world, a man loved by some fans and some by others to hate. If the 2022 Australian Open loses its main title, the competition for the trophy will likely be between Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev (the latter of whom is under investigation over allegations of domestic violence). Certainly less exciting.
(Side note: If Zverev is convicted of a domestic violence offense or subject to a domestic violence order, he will technically fail the character requirements for an Australian visa in the future.)
And on a larger scale, Djokovic’s saga lands in a complicated time for the Australian Open. While the Grand Slam is set to be held at Melbourne Park for the foreseeable future, tournament director Craig Tilly has repeatedly warned that her future is not necessarily guaranteed, particularly as a result of the pandemic. “Although we have a contract until 2039 for the government, that does not mean that if … another country has invested a lot of money for a big event that is easy to play,” he said last year, continuing to come to Melbourne.
“The only reason the players are here is because we offer a lot of prize money and spend a lot of time chasing them,” he added.
So what happens to major tournaments when the best player in the world is banned from participating in them for three years?
Hawke seems afraid to find out.