Tennis star Novak Djokovic won a court battle on Monday to stay in Australia to play the Australian Open despite not having been vaccinated against COVID-19, but the drama may not be over, the government threatening to cancel his visa a second time and to deport him.
Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly reinstated Djokovic’s visa, which was revoked after his arrival last week because authorities ruled that he did not meet the criteria for exemption from a requirement. entry that all non-citizens should be fully immunized.
The judge ruled the No.1 player had not had enough time to speak to his lawyers before this decision was made and ordered the government to release him within 30 minutes from a quarantine hotel in Melbourne where he spent the last four nights.
But government attorney Christopher Tran told the judge the immigration minister “will consider whether to exercise personal power to override.”
That would mean the nine-time Australian Open winner and defending champion could again be sent off and miss the tournament, which begins on January 17. It could also ban him from leaving the country for three years.
The back-and-forth grabbed the world and sparked a furore in Australia, where many initially decried the news that Djokovic, who has been a vocal vaccine skeptic, had been given a strict rule exemption to compete in Melbourne. Many felt the star was receiving special treatment as Australians who are not vaccinated face strict travel and quarantine restrictions. Court documents say he is not vaccinated.
But when border police then blocked him on his arrival, others screamed scandal, saying he was the scapegoat for an Australian government criticized for its recent handling of the pandemic.
Speaking to Prva television station in Belgrade, Serbia, tennis star’s brother Djordje Djokovic called the judge’s decision “a great defeat for the Australian authorities”.
But he said the family still heard his brother could be detained, although he gave no details.
“It’s definitely politics, it was all politics,” he added.
Home Secretary Karen Andrews’ office has confirmed that Novak Djokovic has not been arrested. It was not clear where he was, although hundreds of fans gathered outside his lawyer’s office in Melbourne on Monday evening, many carrying Serbian flags and wearing the banner’s red, white and blue colors. . They chanted “Free Nole,” using the star’s nickname. Police then dispersed them when they surrounded a car trying to leave the area.
Djokovic, 34, boarded a plane to Australia last week after receiving an exemption from vaccination rules from authorities in Victoria state and organizers of the Australian Open. But upon his arrival, federal border officials refused to let him, saying the exemption was not valid.
The overthrow, following the outcry, led some to suspect politics was at stake, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Conservative government seeking re-election to a fourth term in polls slated for May.
While his government has been widely praised for containing the country’s COVID-19 death toll at the start of the pandemic, it recently relaxed some rules, just as omicron cases have increased rapidly. He has been criticized for this strategy as well as for the dearth of rapid antigenic tests and for refusing to make the tests available to everyone free of charge.
Lawmaker John Alexander, a former tennis professional, said a decision by the Immigration Minister to intervene personally would be unfair.
“The Minister’s ‘Personal Visa Cancellation Powers’ are designed to prevent criminals from otherwise walking our streets, or to prevent a contagious person from otherwise walking our streets; they’re not designed to help deal with a potential political problem of the day, ”Alexander, who is part of Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party but is retiring, said on social media.
At Monday’s hearing, lawyers for Djokovic argued that their client did not need proof of vaccination because he had proof that he had been infected with the coronavirus last month.
Australian medical authorities have ruled that people infected with COVID-19 within six months may be granted a temporary exemption from the vaccination rule.
Judge Kelly noted that Djokovic had provided Melbourne airport officials with a medical exemption granted to him by Tennis Australia and two medical panels.
“The point that worries me a bit is what more could this man have done?” Kelly asked Djokovic’s attorney, Nick Wood.
Wood agreed his client couldn’t have done more.
Transcripts of Djokovic’s interview with border officials and his own affidavit revealed a “repeated appeal to the officers with whom he dealt that to his knowledge, without question, he had done absolutely everything he believed was necessary so he can enter Australia, “Wood said.
Djokovic’s lawyers called the cancellation “seriously illogical”.
But lawyers for Home Secretary Andrews said in their brief that the immunization exemption could only be granted to travelers who have recovered from a severe COVID-19 crisis.
“There is no indication that the claimant (Djokovic) was suffering from” severe and acute illness “in December” when he tested positive, according to the written submission.
But in the end, government lawyers finally admitted that the decision to interview Djokovic in the early hours of Thursday and cancel his visa before he could contact Tennis Australia or his lawyers was unreasonable.
Djokovic was informed at 5:20 a.m. on Thursday that he had until 8:30 a.m. to respond to a notice of intention to cancel his visa. His comments were requested instead at 6:14 a.m.
The decision to cancel his visa was taken a little over an hour later.
Minister Andrews did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But a spokesperson for Alex Hawke, Minister of Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, acknowledged the court ruling, adding that the minister’s personal discretion remained at stake.
“The minister is currently reviewing the matter and the process is continuing,” the spokesperson said.
The virtual audience crashed multiple times due to an overwhelming number of people around the world trying to watch the proceedings.
At one point, an expired forensic link was apparently hacked and disseminated pornography, The New Daily News website reported.
Djokovic has 20 Grand Slam singles titles, a men’s record he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
McGuirk reported from Canberra. Associated Press journalists John Pye and Dennis Passa in Brisbane, Tom Moldoveanu in Melbourne and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.