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Djokovic in limbo as he fights deportation from Australia

Published:Thursday | January 6, 2022 | 10:20 AM
Serbia's Novak Djokovic holds the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after defeating Russia's Daniil Medvedev in the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, February 21, 2021. Djokovic has had his visa canceled and been denied entry to Australia, Thursday, January 6, 2022, and is set to be removed from the country after spending the night at the Melbourne airport as officials refused to let him enter the country for the Australian Open after an apparent visa mix-up. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair, File)

Locked in a dispute over his COVID-19 vaccination status, Novak Djokovic was confined to an immigration detention hotel in Australia on Thursday as the No. 1 men's tennis player in the world awaited a court ruling on whether he can compete in the Australian Open later this month.

Djokovic, a vocal sceptic of vaccines, had travelled to Australia after Victoria state authorities granted him an exemption to the country's strict vaccination rules.

But when he arrived late Wednesday, the Australian Border Force rejected his exemption as invalid and barred him from entering the country.

A court hearing on his bid to stave off deportation was set for Monday, while the 34-year-old Serbian and defending Australian Open champion was forced to wait it out in Melbourne at a secure hotel used by immigration officials to house asylum seekers and refugees.

The tournament begins on January 17.

Djokovic's bid to get around the vaccine requirements so that he could play has caused an uproar and triggered allegations of special treatment in Australia, where people spent months in lockdown and endured harsh travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic.

After his long-haul flight, Djokovic spent the night trying to convince authorities he had the necessary documentation, to no avail.

“The rule is very clear,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “You need to have a medical exemption.

He didn't have a valid medical exemption. We make the call at the border, and that's where it's enforced.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the athlete's visa was cancelled after border officials reviewed Djokovic's medical exemption and looked at “the integrity and the evidence behind it.”

While Djokovic has spoken out against vaccines, he has steadfastly refused to say whether he has gotten any shots against the coronavirus, though it is widely presumed he would not have sought an exemption if he had been vaccinated.

Federal Circuit Judge Anthony Kelly adjourned Djokovic's case to Monday.

A lawyer for the government agreed the nine-time Australian Open champion and winner of 20 major titles should not be deported before then.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that he had spoken to Djokovic and that his government asked that the athlete be allowed to move to a house he has rented and “not to be in that infamous hotel.”

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