Canberra Cancels Djokovic’s Visa, Australian Open Participation In Doubt

By: - January 14, 2022

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Canberra has canceled the visa of world tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic, likely ending the Serbian tennis star’s hopes of defending his title at the Grand Slam Australian Open tournament in Melbourne.

“Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said in a statement on January 14 after using his discretionary powers on visa issues.

There was no immediate comment from Djokovic or his legal team. Under Australian law, it is possible to appeal the decision.

The news came after Djokovic had practiced serving and returning on a court at Melbourne Park with no spectators present.

Djokovic had been included in the tournament’s draw as the top seed, but he had remained in limbo as Hawke considered whether to cancel his visa for a second time over COVID-19 entry regulations.

Djokovic, a vaccine skeptic, traveled to Melbourne with a medical exemption to Australia’s requirements for visitors to be inoculated against COVID-19.

The 34-year-old at the time appeared eager to defend his title and vie for a record 21st Grand Slam trophy when the tournament gets under way on January 17.

His troubles started immediately upon arrival in Melbourne when the Australian Border Force decided his exemption was invalid and put him in an immigration detention hotel.

On January 10, an Australian judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa and allowed him out of detention. Since then the matter has been before Hawke, whose spokesman said earlier this week that “lengthy further submissions” from Djokovic’s legal team had delayed a decision.

The situation has caused an outcry in Australia, which has endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns and is now experiencing runaway cases attributed to the omicron variant. Serbia, on the other hand, has rallied behind the player, with some Serbs expressing anger over his treatment.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham defended the government’s policies on January 14, saying they were “crystal clear.”

They require noncitizens who enter Australia to be double dose vaccinated “unless they have a clear and valid medical exemption against that,” Birmingham said on Australian television.

“That policy has not changed, and we will continue to apply that policy rigorously,” Birmingham said.

Djokovic’s cause was not helped by a mistake on his entry declaration on which a box was ticked stating he had not traveled abroad in the two weeks before arriving in Australia. In fact, he had traveled between Spain and Serbia.

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

Some tennis players say Djokovic should be allowed to play, but not all have been supportive.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, ranked fourth in the world, criticized his behavior, telling Indian broadcaster WION, “For sure he has been playing by his own rules.”

With reporting by Retuers and AFP