Novak Djokovic was confined to an immigration detention hotel in Australia on Thursday as he awaited a court judgement on whether he can compete in the Australian Open later this month. The No. 1 men’s tennis player in the world was locked in a dispute over his COVID-19 vaccination status.
Djokovic, a renowned vaccine skeptic, had come to Australia after state officials in Victoria granted him a medical exemption from the country’s rigorous immunization rules. The Australian Border Force, however, regarded his exemption as invalid and banned him from entering the nation when he arrived late Wednesday.
A court hearing on his appeal to avoid deportation has been scheduled for Monday, a week before the start of the season’s first major tennis tournament. The reigning Australian Open champion is waiting it out in Melbourne at a secure hotel where asylum seekers and refugees are housed by immigration officials.
Djokovic is aiming to surpass Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer by winning his 21st Grand Slam singles championship, the most by any male tennis player.
The fact that Djokovic was granted an exemption to play sparked outrage and accusations of preferential treatment in Australia, where people were locked up for months and subjected to severe travel restrictions during the peak of the outbreak.
The tennis great spent the night at the airport after his long-haul journey, attempting to persuade officials that he had the appropriate documents, but to no effect.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated, “The rule is pretty clear.” “You’ll need a medical exemption.” He didn’t have a medical exemption that was legitimate. We make the decision at the border, and it is enforced there.”
Border authorities assessed Djokovic’s medical exemption and looked at “the integrity and the evidence behind it,” according to Health Minister Greg Hunt. Djokovic’s visa was revoked after border officials reviewed his medical exemption and looked at “the integrity and the evidence behind it.”
He was granted an exemption for reasons that were not immediately revealed.
While Djokovic has persistently refused to reveal if he has had any coronavirus vaccinations, he has spoken out against vaccines, and it is commonly assumed that if he had been vaccinated, he would not have requested an exemption.
The matter will be heard by a federal court next week. The government’s counsel agreed that the nine-time Australian Open winner should not be deported until then.
“It pains me that they are keeping him as a prisoner since yesterday.” It’s not right. It’s not even close to being human. “I hope he wins,” Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, said after a brief phone conversation with him from Belgrade.
“Awful, terrible accomodation,” she remarked. If it’s a hotel at all, it’s simply a little immigration hotel.”
Karen Andrews, Australia’s home affairs minister, stated on Friday that Djokovic may leave on the first available aircraft.
“First and foremost, I’d want to state unequivocally that Mr. Djokovic is not being held hostage in Australia. Andrews stated that “he is free to depart at any moment he chooses.” “And Border Force will help with it as well.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic claimed his administration had spoken to Djokovic and requested that he be allowed to relocate into a house he had rented rather than “stay in that terrible hotel.”
Djokovic, he said, had been treated differently than other players.
“I’m concerned this overkill will continue,” Vucic expressed his concern. “When you can’t beat someone, you do stuff like this.”
Andrews added that two additional foreigners who landed in Australia for the tennis event were still being investigated by the Border Force.
The onus is on the visitor to have the necessary papers upon arrival, according to Australia’s prime minister, who dismissed any idea that Djokovic was singled out.
“Acting on intelligence to focus their attention to probable arrivals is one of the things the Border Force conducts,” he added. “When people make public comments about what they claim to have and want to achieve, they attract a lot of attention to themselves.”
“Whether they’re a celebrity, a politician, or a tennis player,” he continued, “they should anticipate to be asked more questions than others before you come.”
Two independent committees of specialists reviewed the medical-exemption petitions submitted by players, their teams, and tennis administrators. The competition was open to anybody who had an official exemption.
Major health issues and extreme responses to a previous dose of the COVID-19 vaccination are both acceptable causes for an exemption. A COVID-19 infection during the past six months has also been widely reported as a reason for an exemption, however interpretations appeared to diverge between the federal government, which controls the border, and regional and state health officials.
Paul McNamee, a former Australian Open tournament director and Davis Cup player, thought Djokovic’s treatment was unjust.
“The man followed the rules, he got his visa, he arrived, he’s a nine-time winner, and he’s entitled to fair play whether people like it or not,” McNamee told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “There’s no denying that there’s a chasm between the state and federal governments.
“I don’t want to believe politics are involved, but it appears to be.”
After playing in a series of exhibition matches that he scheduled without social distancing during the epidemic, Djokovic tested positive for the coronavirus in June 2020.
Djokovic’s defenders claimed that he had a right to privacy and freedom of choice, while others questioned what grounds he may have for the exemption.
Many Australians who have been unable to acquire COVID-19 testing or who have been placed in isolation have noticed a double standard.
Tensions have risen as a result of a new outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. On Thursday, Victoria state reported six fatalities and roughly 22,000 new cases, the largest one-day increase in the caseload since the outbreak began.
Craig Tiley, the director of the Australian Open, defended the “fully valid application and process” and emphasized that Djokovic received no preferential treatment.
Only a “handful” of the twenty-six persons associated with the event asked for a medical exemption, according to Tiley. None of them have been named publicly.