Novak Djokovic was detained again in Australia on Saturday after authorities broke his visa for the second time and declared the unvaccinated tennis superstar a threat to the public. Court documents show the 34-year-old Serbian is currently being detained at an address in Melbourne as his appeal against deportation is being heard. Just two days before the start of the Australian Open, the world number one player is again focused on the law courts instead of the center court in the latest twist in a high-profile row over her COVID-19 vaccine status.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke now claims that Djokovic’s continued presence in the country could “foster anti-vaccination sentiment” and even “increase civil unrest”.
Djokovic was summoned to appear before immigration officials in Melbourne ahead of an emergency federal court hearing on Saturday and Sunday.
He was allowed to follow court proceedings from an address – which was believed to be his attorney’s office – under the protection of two Australian Border Force officers.
This is the second attempt by Australia’s conservative government to deport Djokovic, one of the world’s most high-profile COVID-19 vaccine skeptics.
The 34-year-old Serbian used a medical exemption to enter Australia earlier this month, hoping to challenge for a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Open.
Amid public outcry, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government revoked Djokovic’s visa on arrival.
Many Australians – who have faced prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions – believe Djokovic tricked the system into dodging vaccine entry requirements.
But the government was humiliated when a judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa and allowed him to stay in the country.
This time, the government has invoked extraordinary – and difficult to challenge – executive powers to declare him a threat to public health and safety.
The government argues that Djokovic’s presence is a threat to public health and order, especially as Australia suffers from a tidal wave of Omicron infections.
According to a court filing released on Saturday, Immigration Minister Hawke argued that his continued presence in the country “could pose a health risk to the Australian community” by reinforcing anti-vaccine sentiment and discouraging people from receiving boosters. .
Djokovic’s lawyers argue that the government “provided no evidence” to support his claims.
The minister acknowledged that Djokovic has a “negligible” risk of infecting Australians, but argued that his past “disregard” for COVID-19 regulations could pose risks to public health and leave people vulnerable to the pandemic. May encourage you to ignore the rules.
‘Health and good order’
The tennis ace contracted Covid-19 in mid-December and, according to his own account, failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.
Public records show he took part in a stamp unveiling, youth tennis event and gave a media interview around the time he got tested and his infection was confirmed.
In a statement, Hawke said that the government is “strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”, for the decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa once again led to “health and grounds of good order”.
“It is in public interest to do so,” the minister said.
Barrister Stephen Lloyd said in an emergency session of federal court late Friday that the government had agreed not to deport Djokovic until the end of the trial.
Djokovic is the top seed of the Australian Open and a nine-time tournament winner. He was rehearsing hours before Hawke’s decision was announced.
It is unclear whether Djokovic will choose to stay and fight the case if he feels he is unable to compete at the Australian Open.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday accused Australia of “misconducting” the country’s biggest star and a national hero.
“If you wanted to ban Novak Djokovic from winning his 10th trophy in Melbourne, why didn’t you return him immediately, why didn’t you tell him ‘it’s impossible to get a visa’?” Vucic said on Instagram.
“Novak, we stand with you!”
‘in public interest’
Prime Minister Morrison supported the decision, saying: “The Australian people have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they look forward to protecting the outcome of those sacrifices.”
The cancellation of the visa effectively meant that Djokovic would be barred from obtaining a new Australian visa for three years, barring exceptional circumstances, barring him from one of four Grand Slam tournaments during that time.
He is currently tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20-20 Grand Slam titles.
Former world number one Andy Murray, who will play at the Open, said on Friday that he hopes Djokovic’s condition will be cleared.
“It looks like it’s been dragged on for quite a long time now and (it’s) not good for tennis, not good for Australian Open, not good for Novak,” Murray said.
Djokovic has been criticized by other players, including world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“Certainly he is playing by his own rules,” Tsitsipas told Indian broadcaster WION on Thursday.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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