World tennis number one Novak Djokovic fought against deportation from Australia on Thursday after the government revoked his visa for failing to meet entry requirements for the Covid vaccine. The Serbian vaccine-skeptical was arrested by border officials upon arriving in Australia late Wednesday and denied entry into the country. He is currently being held in an immigration detention center in Melbourne and faces deportation.
Djokovic had traveled to the city’s Tullamarine Airport in hopes of defending his Australian Open crown and bidding for an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam title.
He said on Instagram that he had obtained a dispensation to participate in the tournament, which begins on January 17, without being vaccinated.
The 34-year-old has refused to publicly disclose his vaccine status, but has previously expressed his opposition to the idea of ââgetting bitten. He contracted the Covid at least once.
But instead of the return of a conquering champion, Djokovic never crossed border control.
Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Djokovic failed to provide authorities with proof of a double vaccination or adequate medical exemption.
âThe rules are the rules and there are no special cases,â Morrison said.
Australian border officials questioned the sports star overnight and revoked his visa on the grounds that he had “failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet entry requirements”.
Djokovic’s lawyers are now challenging this decision in court, hoping to prevent the star’s expulsion.
“Djokovic, justice and truth”
News that Djokovic had been granted an exemption to arrive in Australia unvaccinated sparked public outcry.
Australians have been unable to travel or host family from overseas for much of the past two years, due to tight pandemic restrictions.
Stephen Parnis, former vice president of the Australian Medical Association, said the exemption sent a “appalling message” to people trying to stop the spread of Covid-19.
But the treatment of the Serbian upon his arrival drew fury from his fans and a fierce diplomatic reprimand from the Serbian president.
“The whole of Serbia is with him and (…) our authorities are taking all measures to ensure that the ill-treatment inflicted on the best tennis player in the world comes to an end as quickly as possible”, said President Aleksandar Vucic after speaking interviewed by telephone with Djokovic.
“In accordance with all standards of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic, justice and truth.”
Djokovic’s father echoed the nationalist tone, saying his son had been “held captive for five hours” at Melbourne airport and is expected to return home with a heroic welcome.
“It’s a fight for a libertarian world, it’s not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world,” he told Russian state media Sputnik in Serbia.
Sanja, a 35-year-old Serbian-Australian Djokovic fan, was eager to see him play in Melbourne.
“He went through a civil war to play tennis. He didn’t hurt the world. If it was Nadal or Federer, there wouldn’t be so much hype about it.”
“No special favor”
Australian leaders – wary of public opinion and growing Covid issues ahead of the next election – have pointed out who is responsible for the saga.
Home Secretary Karen Andrews said the government had “not apologized” for border protection, although the Prime Minister had suggested earlier that it was up to Melbourne officials.
Tournament organizers were also criticized, with Australian Open chief Craig Tiley insisting the defending champion had received “no special favors” and urging him to reveal why he got the exemption to appease the public anger.
All participants in the first Grand Slam of 2022 must be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have medical exemption, which is only granted after evaluation by two colleges of independent experts.
Among the conditions for entry without a vaccine is whether a person has had Covid-19 in the past six months. It has not been revealed whether this is the case with Djokovic.
Tiley said only 26 of the estimated 3,000 players and support staff traveling to Australia for the tournament had requested a vaccine exemption. Only a handful had succeeded.
He defended the integrity of the exemption request process.
“Anyone who met those conditions was allowed in. There was no special favor. No special opportunity was given to Novak,” Tiley said.
Djokovic expressed his opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine in April 2020 when it was suggested that they could be mandatory for the tournament to resume.
âPersonally, I’m not pro-vaccine,â Djokovic said at the time. “I wouldn’t want someone to force me to get the vaccine so I can travel.”
During Djokovic’s questioning at the airport, his trainer Goran Ivanisevic posted on Instagram a photo of himself and the Serbian’s other backstage staff, patiently waiting at the airport for a resolution.
âIt’s not the most usual downward journey,â the former Wimbledon champion wrote.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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