Novak Djokovic may be able to stay in Australia and contest a record 21st Grand Slam victory after a court quashed the cancellation of his visa and ordered his immediate release from detention in a hotel.
Judge Anthony Kelly said the world mens’ tennis No. 1 didn’t have enough time to fully respond after officials notified him early on Thursday morning that he had insufficient proof to enter the country under current Covid rules. In the late Monday afternoon decision via a virtual hearing, he ordered the government to pay the star’s costs and release him.
“If the applicant had had until 8.30 a.m., he could have consulted others and made submissions to the delegate about why his visa should not be canceled,” the judge said, saying the circumstances were “unreasonable.”
The government’s counsel advised that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke could still separately exercise his own personal power to push ahead with canceling the visa, despite the ruling. It had previously warned of that potential outcome in documents filed on Sunday.
Djokovic has been confined to a Melbourne hotel that detains refugees since Thursday after border officials overturned a Victoria state vaccine exemption allowing him to play in the Australian Open tournament.
News of the exemption sparked uproar in a country where more than 90% of adults are fully vaccinated and that’s endured some of the world’s toughest restrictions during the pandemic. Prime Minister Scott Morrison supported the subsequent bid to deport the player after his arrival in Australia, with the saga highlighting the policy and communication mismatch between federal and state officials that’s been a hallmark of Australia’s Covid-19 journey.
Most non-Australians are still barred from entering the country unless they obtain a travel exemption and are fully vaccinated. Djokovic’s lawyers argued on Saturday that he was granted a valid exemption following a positive Covid test on Dec. 16, but the federal government rejected that position. It said that tournament organizers were told a recent infection wouldn’t allow someone to avoid Australia’s vaccination requirement and receive an entry visa.
Australians who haven’t had at least two doses of vaccine are restricted from entering most indoor venues throughout Victoria, in a bid to curb the spread of the highly infectious omicron variant and ease pressure on hospitals. The country reported more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases for the first time in a single day on Saturday, with cases more than doubling in Victoria to 51,356.
Djokovic has previously won the tournament nine times, and a victory would push him out of a tie with long-time rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The tournament will start on Jan. 17.
In a 35-page filing released on Saturday, his lawyers said the world No. 1 had received a document on Jan. 1 from Australia’s Department of Home Affairs affirming the exemption would allow him to enter the country.
“Mr. Djokovic understood that he was entitled to enter Australia and Victoria and to compete in the Australian Tennis Open,” the lawyers wrote.
In its response, the Australian ministry rejected Djokovic’s “so-called ‘medical exemption’” and said, “there is no such thing as an assurance of entry by a non-citizen into Australia.”
Veteran Czech player Renata Voracova departed Australia late Saturday, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. The doubles specialist had competed in a warm-up tournament for the Australian Open last week. Her visa was canceled by the Australian Border Force after she entered the country with the same type of vaccine exemption claimed by Djokovic, the ABC said. A tennis official who wasn’t identified also departed, the ABC said.
Djokovic, 34, said in 2020 that he was personally opposed to vaccines, but later clarified that he was no expert and would make the decision that was right for him.
“I wouldn’t want to be forced to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” Djokovic said in 2020, months before the first coronavirus vaccines were available.—Bloomberg
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