Djokovic appeal to be heard Saturday after Australia cancels visa again – Reuters

  • Djokovic’s visa cancelled for second time
  • Bid for 21st major title at Australian Open blocked
  • Djokovic asks court for injunction to block deportation

MELBOURNE, Jan 15 (Reuters) – Tennis star Novak Djokovic was set to take his fight against deportation from Australia to a federal court on Saturday after the government again cancelled his visa over COVID-19 entry rules and his unvaccinated status.

The government undertook not to deport him until the case was over, although the world’s top ranked men’s player was nevertheless ordered to return to pre-deportation detention at 8 a.m. on Saturday (2100 GMT on Friday).

His legal team submitted their appeal late on Friday, after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used discretionary powers to revoke the visa, hoping the Serbian player will still be able to begin the defence of his Australian Open title on Monday.

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The lawyers said they would argue that Djokovic’s deportation could be just as much of a threat to public health, by fanning anti-vaccine sentiment, as letting him stay and exempting him from Australia’s requirement that all visitors must be vaccinated.

In Serbia, a health ministry official defended the player against media reports of anomalies in the positive COVID-19 test from Dec. 16 that Djokovic used as the basis for his exemption document.

German news magazine Der Spiegel said earlier this week that the QR code for the test showed a negative result when first scanned but subsequently a positive one, and questioned when the test was actually taken.

Zoran Gojkovic, a member of the Serbian ministry’s COVID-19 crisis-fighting team, said a ministry analysis showed the document to be “absolutely valid.”

While Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not escaped criticism for the seemingly inconsistent handling of Djokovic’s visa application.

Djokovic, 34 and bidding for a record 21st Grand Slam title, had been told on arrival on Jan. 5 that the medical exemption that enabled him to travel was invalid.

He spent several days in immigration detention before that decision was revoked on procedural grounds.

Hawke said on Friday that he had now exercised his prerogative to cancel the visa “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”.

‘PROTECTING BORDERS’

He said he had considered information from Djokovic and the authorities, and that the government was “firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Judge Anthony Kelly, who revoked the first cancellation, said the government had agreed not to deport Djokovic before the case concluded, and that the player could leave detention to meet his lawyers and attend hearings. read more

Although Djokovic has publicly opposed compulsory vaccination, he has not campaigned against vaccination in general.

The controversy has nonetheless intensified a global debate over people’s rights to choose whether or not to get vaccinated, and become a tricky political issue for Morrison as he prepares for an election due by May.

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park as questions remain over the legal battle regarding his visa to play in the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, January 13, 2022. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said in a statement.

“This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today. Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe.”

Australians have endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns, and the country has seen a runaway Omicron outbreak bring nearly a million cases in the last two weeks.

More than 90% of Australian adults are vaccinated, and an online poll by the News Corp media group found that 83% favoured deportation for Djokovic. read more

His cause was not helped by an incorrect entry declaration, where a box was ticked stating he had not travelled abroad in the two weeks before leaving for Australia.

In fact, he had travelled between Spain and Serbia.

Djokovic blamed the error on his agent and also acknowledged he should not have done an interview and photoshoot for a French newspaper on Dec. 18 while infected with COVID-19.

The player has been hailed as a hero by anti-vaccination campaigners. Last September more than 200 people were arrested during sometimes violent protests in Melbourne against a lockdown imposed to contain the spread.

‘PATENTLY IRRATIONAL’

Djokovic’s legal team said the government was arguing that letting him stay in Australia would incite others to refuse vaccination.

One of his lawyers told the court that this was “patently irrational” because Hawke was ignoring the effect that forcibly removing “this high profile, legally compliant, negligible risk, medical contradicted player” might have on anti-vax sentiment and on public order.

Djokovic had looked relaxed as he practised serves and returns with his entourage on an empty court at Melbourne Park on Friday, occasionally resting to wipe sweat from his face.

He was included in the draw for the open as top seed and is due to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday.

Greek world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas, speaking before Hawke’s decision, said Djokovic was “playing by his own rules” and making vaccinated players “look like fools”.

In Belgrade, some already appeared resigned to Djokovic missing the tournament.

“He is a role model to all of us, but rules must clearly be set,” Milan Majstorovic told Reuters TV. “I am unsure how big the involvement of the politics is in that.”

Another passer-by, Ana Bojic, said: “He can either vaccinate to remain world number one – or he can be stubborn and end his career.”

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Reporting by Sonali Paul, Kirsty Needham and Ian Ransom in Melbourne and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade Writing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel, Kevin Liffey and John Stonestreet Editing by Gareth Jones, John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Djokovic appeal to be heard Saturday after Australia cancels visa again – Reuters

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