Djokovic in limbo as he fights deportation from Australia

BRISBANE, Australia – Locked in a dispute over his COVID-19 vaccination status, Novak Djokovic was confined to an immigrant detention hotel in Australia on Thursday as a No.

BRISBANE, Australia – Locked in a dispute over his COVID-19 vaccination status, Novak Djokovic was confined to an immigrant detention hotel in Australia on Thursday as the world’s No.1 male tennis player awaited a decision from justice over whether he can compete in the Australian Open later this month.

Djokovic, a vaccine skeptic, had traveled to Australia after authorities in Victoria state granted him a medical exemption from the country’s strict vaccination requirements. But when he arrived on Wednesday evening, Australian border forces dismissed his exemption as invalid and barred him from entering the country.

A court hearing on his attempt to avoid deportation has been set for Monday, as the 34-year-old Serbian and defending Australian Open champion was forced to wait in Melbourne at a secure hotel in use by immigration officials to accommodate asylum seekers and refugees. .

The tournament starts on January 17th. Djokovic hopes to overtake rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the record books and win his 21st Grand Slam singles title, the most male tennis player.

Djokovic’s obtaining an exemption to play has sparked an uproar and allegations of special treatment in Australia, where people have spent months in detention and suffered severe travel restrictions in the height of the crisis. pandemic.

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

“The rule is very clear,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “We need a medical exemption. He did not have a valid medical exemption. We make the call at the border, and that’s where it is applied.

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

While Djokovic spoke out against the vaccines, he firmly declined to say whether he had received any coronavirus vaccines, although it is widely assumed that he would not have requested an exemption if he had. been vaccinated.

Federal Circuit Judge Anthony Kelly adjourned Djokovic’s case to Monday. A government lawyer has agreed that the nine-time Australian Open champion should not be sent off until then.

“I feel bad since yesterday that they keep him as a prisoner. It is not fair. It’s not human. I hope he wins, “said Djokovic’s mother Dijana, after speaking with him briefly by phone from Belgrade.

She added: “Horrible, horrible accommodation. This is just a small immigration hotel, if it is a hotel at all.”

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

He added that Djokovic was treated differently from other players.

“I’m afraid this overkill will continue,” said Vucic. “When you can’t beat someone, then you do such things.”

Asked about the confusion in Djokovic’s case, Morrison said it is the traveller’s responsibility to have the proper paperwork on arrival.

The PM rejected any suggestion that Djokovic was distinguished, but acknowledged that other players could be in Australia with the same type of medical exemption.

“One of the things the Border Force does is act on the basis of intelligence to draw its attention to potential arrivals,” he said. “When people make public statements about what they say they have and what they are going to do, they bring a lot of attention to themselves. “

Anyone who does this, he said, “whether it’s a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player …

Requests for medical exemptions from players, their teams and tournament officials have been reviewed by two independent panels of experts.

Critics questioned what motives Djokovic might have for the exemption, while supporters argued he has a right to privacy and freedom of choice.

Many Australians who have struggled to get COVID-19 tests or have been forced into solitary confinement have seen a double standard.

Tension has increased amid a new wave of COVID-19 in the country. Victoria state on Thursday recorded six deaths and nearly 22,000 new cases, the largest one-day increase in the number of cases since the start of the pandemic.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the “completely legitimate request and process” on Wednesday and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic.

Twenty-six people linked to the tournament have requested medical exemption and, Tiley said, only a “handful” has been granted. None of these have been publicly identified

Acceptable reasons for an exemption include major medical conditions and severe reactions to a previous dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Evidence of COVID-19 infection in the past six months has also been widely reported as a ground for exemption, but it appears to be a matter of dispute between federal and state authorities.

Djokovic tested positive for the coronavirus in June 2020 after playing in a series of exhibition matches he staged without social distancing amid the pandemic.


Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and AP sports writer Dennis Passa in Brisbane, Australia, contributed to this report.


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John Pye, The Associated Press