Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government yesterday revoked his visa for a second time, the latest twist in the ongoing saga over whether the world No. 1 would be allowed to compete in the Australian Open, despite being unvaccinated for COVID-19.
Australian Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alex Hawke said that he used his ministerial discretion to cancel the 34-year-old’s visa on public interest grounds — just three days before play begins at the Australian Open, where Djokovic has won a record nine of his 20 Grand Slam titles.
Three hours later, Djokovic’s lawyers began their appeal against the visa cancelation in an after-hours hearing at the Australian Federal Circuit and Family Court.
The same judge, Anthony Kelly, ruled in favor of Djokovic earlier this week on procedural grounds after his visa was first canceled when he landed at a Melbourne airport.
Djokovic’s lawyer, Nick Wood, told Kelly he hoped that an appeal would be heard tomorrow and that Djokovic would have his visa returned in time for him to play on Monday.
Djokovic was to remain free last night, but would effectively return to immigration detention when he meets with Australian Border Force officials at 8am today.
He was to spend the morning at his lawyers’ offices under Border Force guard and return to hotel detention this afternoon.
Deportation from Australia can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the nation, although that might be waived, depending on the circumstances.
Hawke said that he canceled the visa on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”
His statement added that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Djokovic’s main ground of appeal against Hawke’s decision was that it was not based on the health risk that the tennis champion might pose by not being vaccinated, but on how he might be perceived by anti-vaccine protesters.
“The minister only considers the potential for exciting anti-vaxx sentiment in the event that he’s present,” Wood said.
Hawke’s reasons do not take into account the potential impact on anti-vaccine protesters of Djokovic being forcibly removed, Wood said.
“The minister gives no consideration whatsoever to what effect that may have on anti-vax sentiment and indeed on public order,” Wood said. “That seems patently irrational.”
Morrison himself welcomed Djokovic’s pending deportation.
The whole episode has touched a nerve in Australia, and particularly in Victoria state, where locals went through hundreds of days of lockdowns during the worst of the pandemic and there is a vaccination rate among adults of more than 90 percent.
Australia is facing a massive surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.
The nation yesterday reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in Victoria state.
Although many infected people are not getting as sick as they did in previous outbreaks, the surge is still putting severe strain on the health system, with more than 4,400 people hospitalized. It is also causing disruptions to workplaces and supply chains.
“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stuck together, and saved lives and livelihoods... Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said. “This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today.”
Everyone at the Australian Open — including players, their support teams and spectators — is required to be vaccinated. Djokovic is not inoculated and had sought a medical exemption on the grounds that he had contracted COVID-19 last month.
That exemption was approved by the Victoria State Government and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa to travel, but the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa when he landed in Melbourne on Wednesday last week.
Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention facility before Kelly on Monday overturned that decision.
“It’s not a good situation for anyone,” said Andy Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion and five-time runner-up at the Australian Open. “Just want it obviously to get resolved. I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case. It just seems like it’s dragged on for quite a long time now — not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak.”
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