Australia will delay efforts to deport Novak Djokovic until his new legal challenge is concluded, a government lawyer said on Friday. At an emergency hearing, Stephen Lloyd told a judge that the government would not detain Djokovic before an interview with immigration officials on Saturday morning and that he would not be deported before his case is heard.
Earlier, Australia canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time on Friday in a new sensational attempt to deport the unvaccinated tennis superstar. The country’s conservative government, once defeated in court, has invoked extraordinary executive powers to again dismantle the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.
The move came just three days before the Australian Open begins, putting Djokovic’s dream of a record 21 Grand Slams in serious doubt. Djokovic, an avowed Covid-19 vaccine skeptic, is the tournament’s top seed and had been practicing on the Melbourne Park courts just hours before Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s bombshell decision was announced.
The government is “strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Hawke said in a statement.
He cited “health and good order reasons” for the decision and said it was “in the public interest to do so.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed the decision: “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected.”
The cancellation of the visa means that the world number one tennis player will not be able to obtain a new Australian visa for three years, except in exceptional circumstances.
But at an emergency court hearing on Friday night, the tennis ace disputed the decision.
Djokovic’s attorney, Nick Wood, has filed for an injunction against his removal and appealed to be allowed to remain out of immigration detention while the case progresses.
“We are very concerned about the timing,” Wood said, arguing that the government’s decision was marked by “irrationality.”
– ‘All the fools’ –
In Belgrade, Djokovic’s compatriots reacted in shock to the news.
“To say that a top athlete like Novak is a health hazard to Australians is just absurd, it’s a scandal,” said Petar Stojanovic, a 28-year-old local government employee.
The megastar flew into Melbourne airport on January 5 claiming a vaccine exemption due to a positive PCR test result on December 16.
Border agents refused his exemption, revoked his visa and placed him in a notorious Melbourne detention center where he spent four nights.
The Australian government insists that a recent infection does not qualify as a vaccination exemption for foreign nationals trying to enter the country.
Djokovic’s senior legal team overturned the visa decision in federal circuit court on Monday because border officials at the airport did not give him the agreed time to respond.
Djokovic’s vaccine exemption sparked outrage among many Australians who have endured nearly two years of some of the world’s toughest coronavirus restrictions.
Some tennis players say Djokovic should now be allowed to play, but not all have been supportive.
World number four Stefanos Tsitsipas criticized his behaviour.
“For sure he has been playing by his own rules,” Tsitsipas said in an interview with India’s WION broadcaster.
Almost everyone at the Australian Open had been vaccinated, Tsitsipas said. But others “chose to go their own way, which makes most of them seem like they’re all fools.”
– ‘Error in judgment’ –
On Wednesday, Djokovic described reports about post-infection outings without a mask in Serbia as “misinformation”. On the day of his alleged positive test in Serbia, he attended a ceremony to honor him with stamps bearing his image. The next day he attended a junior tennis event. He appeared in both seemingly unmasked.
Djokovic said in an Instagram post that he only received the PCR test result after going to the children’s tennis event on December 17.
But he admitted that he also went ahead with an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe on December 18.
“On reflection, this was an error in judgment and I accept that I should have rescheduled this match,” Djokovic said.
The journalist who conducted the L’Equipe interview, Franck Ramella, said that he did not know at the time of the interview that Djokovic was covid-positive.
The tennis star also admitted an error on his travel statement to Australia, in which a box was checked indicating that he had not traveled or would not travel in the 14 days before flying to Melbourne.
Indeed, social media posts and reports show that he flew from Serbia to Spain during that period.
Djokovic blamed his support team for this. “My agent sincerely apologizes for the clerical error in checking the wrong box,” he said.
As Covid-related hospitalizations rise in Melbourne, the Victoria state government said on Thursday it would limit capacity at the Australian Open to 50 per cent.