It’s no djoke! Novak Djokovic deported after Australian court upholds visa cancellation

The three-judge bench read out a unanimous ruling, dealing the final blow to Djokovic’s hopes of a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

Djokovic’s visa saga dominated headlines across the globe, fuelling debate over the rights of people who choose to remain unvaccinated. (AP)
Djokovic’s visa saga dominated headlines across the globe, fuelling debate over the rights of people who choose to remain unvaccinated. (AP)

Novak Djokovic at Australian Open: Serbian tennis ace Novak Djokovic was deported Australia on Sunday following a weeklong saga after the country’s Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa on grounds that his decision to not be vaccinated against Covid-19 imperilled citizens.

The three-judge bench read out a unanimous ruling, dealing the final blow to Djokovic’s hopes of a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

The Serbian boarded a flight from Melbourne to Dubai, Reuters reported.

THE LEGAL CHALLENGE

The world’s top-ranked men’s player was detained by Australian immigration authorities on January 6, released following a court order on January 10, and then detained again on Saturday.

He released a statement after the ruling became public and said he was “disappointed” at not being able to compete.

“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” Reuters quoted Djokovic as saying in a statement.

The 34-year-old had challenged Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s use of discretionary powers to cancel his visa. Hawke cited a threat to public order if Djokovic was allowed to enter as his presence could encourage anti-vaccination sentiment amid the worst outbreak of Covid-19 in Australia.

Djokovic’s visa saga dominated headlines across the globe, fuelling debate over the rights of people who choose to remain unvaccinated.

The controversy quickly snowballed into a political touchstone for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who will head into a general election by May. His government’s handling of the visa situation has come in for severe criticism.

AUSTRALIAN RULES LOOPHOLE

Djokovic was granted an Australian visa with a Covid-19 infection on December 16 allowing him to seek medical exemption from the country’s requirements that visitors be vaccinated.

The exemption sparked anger in Australia, which has witnessed among the toughest Covid-19 lockdowns in the world and where over 90% of adults are vaccinated.

ATP REACTS

The court’s decision was “deeply regrettable” and his exit from the Australian Open, where he is a record nine-time champion, a loss for the sport, men’s tennis governing body ATP said.

“Today’s decision to uphold Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa cancellation marks the end of a deeply regrettable series of events,” the ATP said in a statement.

“Ultimately, decisions of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected. More time is required to take stock of the facts and to take the learnings from this situation.”

The ATP had earlier said 97% of the top 100 players in the men’s game had been inoculated and reiterated its commitment to “strongly recommend” players to get jabbed.

“Irrespective of how this point has been reached, Novak is one of our sport’s greatest champions and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for the game,” the ATP said.

REACTION IN SERBIA

The decision to deport Djokovic, however, has not gone down well in Serbia with the premier of the Balkan country denouncing it as “scandalous”.

“I think the court decision is scandalous… I find it unbelievable that we have two completely contradictory court decisions within the span of just a few days,” Reuters quoted Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic as saying.

“I am disappointed… I think it demonstrated how the rule of law is functioning or better to say not functioning in some other countries. In any case, I can hardly wait to see Novak Djokovic in our own country, in Serbia.”

The Serbian Tennis Association said the “farce is over” and “politics has beaten sports”, Reuters reported.

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