Australia have announced they will arrest Novak Djokovic this weekend after stripping him of his visa again, in a dramatic setback for the tennis world number one.
In this file photo taken on November 17, 2021, Serbian Novak Djokovic celebrates after beating Russia’s Andrey Rublev in their ATP Finals first round singles match at Pala Alpitour in Turin. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO/AFP
MELBOURNE – Australia announced on Friday that they will detain Novak Djokovic this weekend after stripping him of his visa again, in a dramatic setback to the tennis world number one’s goal of winning a record 21st Grand Slam .
As time ticks away before the start of the Australian Open on Monday, the nine-time title holder was told in an emergency hearing that he will be in immigration detention from Saturday morning – not on the tennis courts at Melbourne Park.
The megastar’s attempt to avoid deportation will be heard in the Federal Court of Australia at 10.15am on Saturday.
The government has agreed not to deport the 34-year-old Serbian tennis ace until the end of the hearing, attorney Stephen Lloyd told an overnight emergency session of the federal circuit court.
But Djokovic is expected to report to government offices at 8 a.m. Saturday to be taken into custody.
He would be allowed out of custody to follow an online hearing at his lawyers’ offices, but only under the supervision of Australian Border Force officers, the lawyer said.
It’s unclear if Djokovic will opt to stay and pursue the case if he feels he’s unable to compete at the Australian Open.
Australia’s Conservative government, defeated once in court, invoked extraordinary executive powers to tear up its visa again, this time for reasons of public interest.
The player’s lawyer, Nick Wood, said the government had argued Djokovic’s presence would spark anti-vaccine sentiment in Australia, which is battling a wave of infections with the Omicron variant.
Djokovic, an avowed skeptic of the COVID-19 vaccine, is the tournament’s top seed and had been training on the courts at Melbourne Park just hours before Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s explosive decision was announced.
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
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 “reasons of health and good order” 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.”
Cancellation of the visa effectively means that Djokovic will not be able to obtain a new Australian visa for three years, except in exceptional circumstances.
In Belgrade, his compatriots reacted with amazement to the announcement of the cancellation of his visa.
“To say that a top sportsman like Novak is a health hazard to Australians is just nonsense, it’s outrageous,” said local government worker Petar Stojanovic, 28.
The star flew into Melbourne Airport on January 5 claiming a vaccine exemption due to a positive PCR test result on December 16.
Border officials rejected his exemption, revoked his visa and placed him in a notorious Melbourne detention center where he spent four nights.
The Australian government insists that recent infection does not constitute a vaccine exemption for foreign nationals trying to enter the country.
Djokovic’s top 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.
THEY ARE ALL CRAZY
Djokovic’s vaccine waiver has caused 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 in favor.
World number four Stefanos Tsitsipas has criticized his behavior.
“For sure he played by his own rules,” Tsitsipas said in an interview with Indian broadcaster WION.
Almost everyone at the Australian Open had been vaccinated, Tsitsipas said. But others “chose to go their own way, which makes the majority feel like they’re all fools.”
On Wednesday, Djokovic called reports of post-infection exits without a mask in Serbia “disinformation”.
On the day he allegedly tested positive in Serbia, he attended a ceremony to honor him with stamps bearing his likeness. The next day, he attended a youth tennis event. He appeared at once seemingly without a mask.
Djokovic said in an Instagram post that he only received the PCR test result after attending the children’s tennis event on December 17.
But he admitted he also gave an interview to French sports daily L’Equipe on December 18.
“On reflection, it was an error in judgment and I accept that I should have postponed this engagement,” Djokovic said.
The journalist who conducted the L’Equipe interview, Franck Ramella, said he was unaware at the time of the interview that Djokovic was COVID-positive.
The tennis star also admitted an error on his Australian travel declaration, in which a box was ticked indicating he had not, or would not, travel within 14 days of flying to Melbourne.
In fact, social media posts and reports show that he flew from Serbia to Spain during this time.
Djokovic blamed his support team for this. “My agent sincerely apologizes for the administrative error in checking the wrong box,” he said.
As COVID-related hospitalizations rise in Melbourne, the Victorian state government announced on Thursday that it will cap Australian Open capacity at 50%.