Novak Djokovic has launched a late night legal fight to stay in Australia and avoid being deported after his visa was cancelled for a second time today, throwing the Australian Open tournament into disarray.
Officials said the world tennis No. 1, who is unvaccinated for COVID-19, may pose a risk to the community, dashing his hopes of competing for his 21st grand slam.
The cancellation means Djokovic would be barred from a new Australian visa for three years, except in compelling circumstances that affect Australia’s interest.
But the Australian judge who blocked Djokovic’s deportation scheduled an emergency hearing late Friday, with the player’s lawyers saying he is seeking an injunction against the deportation.
The lawyers spoke at a late night hearing at the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia before Judge Anthony Kelly, the same judge who on Monday quashed an earlier cancellation of Djokovic’s visa.
‘A directions hearing will be conducted tonight at 8:45 pm (0945 GMT) before Judge Anthony Kelly of the Federal Circuit Court,’ a court spokesman said in a statement.
The hearing sets up a second court battle by the Serbian tennis star to be allowed to stay and play in the Open, that starts on Monday.
A video on Friday evening showed a car – believed to be carrying the player – arriving at his lawyer’s officers ahead of the hearing being announced.
Djokovic, the Australian Open defending champion, was included in the tournament’s draw on Thursday as top seed and was due to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic for his opening match, probably on Monday or Tuesday.
The saga has intensified global debate over rights of choice for vaccines, raised questions over Australia’s bungled handling of Djokovic’s visa and become a tricky issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he campaigns for re-election.
Morrison said Friday his government cancelled Novak Djokovic’s visa to protect Australia’s hard-won gains against the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,’ Morrison said in a statement.
Australia has cancelled Novak Djokovic ‘s visa for a second time, the country’s immigration minister announced on Friday. Pictured: Djokovic rests during a training session at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 14, 2022
‘I note the Minister for Immigration’s decision in relation to Mr Novak Djokovic’s visa.
‘I understand that following careful consideration, action has been taken by the Minister to cancel Mr Djokovic’s visa held on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,’ Morrison said.
‘This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods.’
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used discretionary powers to again cancel Djokovic’s visa, after a court quashed an earlier revocation and released him from immigration detention on Monday.
‘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,’ Hawke said in a statement.
‘This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10 January 2022, quashing a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds.
‘In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic.
‘The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.’
Mr Hawke’s decision comes just three days out from the start of the Australian Open where Djokovic had hoped to become the most successful male player of all time.
It will likely result in another round of court action by the 34-year-old Serb who has already won the Open nine times, and throw the grand slam tournament into further disarray.
However, legal experts say it would be difficult – if not impossible – for Djokovic to successfully challenge a visa cancellation decision made personally by the Immigration Minister.
Djokovic could be held in detention in Melbourne while the Open goes on without the world’s top ranked player, creating a nightmare scenario for Tennis Australia.
Protests have been predicted and the federal government can expect an international backlash in response to its decision, particularly from Serbia.
Melbourne’s The Age newspaper earlier on Friday cited a source in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party as saying the government was ‘strongly leaning’ towards revoking the visa again.
While Morrison’s government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not escaped criticism over the botched handling of Djokovic’s visa.
Pictured: Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic stands at a booth of the Australian Border Force at the airport in Melbourne, Australia, January 5, 2022
The tennis star, a vaccine sceptic, fuelled widespread anger in Australia when he announced last week he was heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open with a medical exemption to requirements for visitors to be inoculated against COVID-19.
Australia has endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns, has a 90 percent vaccination rate among adults, and has seen a runaway Omicron outbreak bring nearly a million cases in the last two weeks.
Djokovic was facing mounting criticism for his actions, including from other tennis players set to take part in the Australian Open next week.
Greek world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas said Djokovic was ‘playing by his own rules’ and making vaccinated players ‘look like fools’.
‘No-one really thought they could come to Australia unvaccinated and not having to follow the protocols … it takes a lot of daring to do and putting the grand slam at risk, which I don’t think many players would do,’ Tsitsipas said in an interview with India’s WION news channel.
An online poll by the News Corp media group found that 83 percent favoured the government trying to deport the tennis star.
‘Absolutely, he should go. He hasn’t done the right thing and is being a bit cheeky about it,’ said Venus Virgin Tomarz, 45, who lives in Melbourne.
‘To be honest, it’s political. But if what the media are saying is true – that he didn’t come with the right paperwork – he should be treated just like everyone else,’ said Jacob Coluccio, 25, who also lives in Melbourne.
‘It should never have come to this,’ said opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
‘They have never answered the question of how is it that that visa was granted in the first place if he wasn’t eligible because he wasn’t fully vaccinated.’
Reacting to the news, British tennis player and former world No. 1 Andy Murray said: ‘It’s unfortunate that it’s ended up in this sort of situation, and who knows?
‘I don’t know what route he goes down, if he can appeal that and, you know, how long that takes, and can he still be out practicing whilst that process is going on or still competing in the tournament?
‘Just want it to get resolved. I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case. It just seems like it’s dragged on for quite a long time now, and yeah, not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak.’
The cancellation means Djokovic (pictured taking a rest during training on Friday) would be barred from a new Australian visa for three years, except under certain circumstances
WHAT NOVAK BAN MEANS FOR OPEN DRAW
The Australian government’s decision to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time on Friday will shake up the Australian Open draw and could hand ‘Big Three’ rival Rafa Nadal a boost in the race for the Grand Slam record.
Top seed and defending champion Djokovic had been bracketed to play fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round during the draw on Thursday.
However, unless Djokovic successfully overturns the government’s decision for a second time through the courts, his place at the top of the draw will be taken by Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev.
The 17th seed Gael Monfils, who had been bracketed to play unseeded Argentine Federico Coria, will move into Rublev’s original slot and take on Italian Gianluca Mager in the first round.
Kazakh world number 35 Alexander Bublik, who had been drawn to play a qualifier, will now move into Monfils’ initial spot and play Coria.
The vacant spot in the draw will be decided after qualifying.
Djokovic’s withdrawal could mean he loses the world number one ranking if second seed Daniil Medvedev or third seed Alex Zverev win the tournament.
It could also prove crucial in the all-time Grand Slam titles race, with Djokovic sharing the record of 20 championships with the absent Roger Federer and Nadal.
Sixth seed Nadal may be among the most pleased with Djokovic’s withdrawal.
The Spanish great would have had to meet nine-times champion Djokovic in the semi-finals if the tournament progressed according to seeding.
Though a fine player, Rublev would seem a more manageable obstacle for Nadal, who won his sole Australian Open title in 2009 but made finals in 2012, 2014, 2017 and 2019.
Medvedev was rated second favourite by bookmakers behind Djokovic until the Serb’s visa cancellation.
The Russian, who thrashed Djokovic in the U.S. Open final to win his maiden Grand Slam title, will likely be favourite when the tournament starts Monday.
Calls for Djokovic to be deported increased after inconsistencies emerged between his sworn evidence on immigration documents and social media posts.
The megastar flew into Melbourne airport on January 5 claiming a vaccine exemption because of a positive PCR test result on December 16.
Border agents rejected his exemption, tore up his visa and placed him in a notorious Melbourne detention centre where he spent four nights.
The Australian government insists a recent infection does not qualify as a vaccine exemption for foreign nationals trying to enter the country.
Djokovic’s top-flight legal team dramatically overturned the visa decision because border officials at the airport had failed to give him the agreed time to respond.
He was released, but has since admitted providing false information on his travel entry form, which incorrectly claimed he had not travelled in the 14 days before his arrival in Melbourne, despite visiting Spain.
Djokovic has also conceded he breached Serbia’s isolation rules after learning he had tested positive to the virus on December 16.
Djokovic said he had been interviewed in person by a French newspaper while infected with Covid, and blamed his agent for the ‘administrative error’ on his travel entry form.
The discrepancies emerged after Djokovic issued a lengthy Instagram statement on Wednesday to clarify ‘misinformation’ about his movements while positive with Covid.
‘I want to address the continuing misinformation about my activities and attendance at events in December in the lead-up to my positive Covid test result,’ it began.
‘I want to emphasise that I have tried very hard to ensure the safety of everyone and my compliance with testing obligations.’
Djokovic admitted doing a interview and photo shoot L’Equipe while infected with Covid as he had a long standing commitment to do so.
‘I cancelled all other events except for the L’Equipe interview,’ Djokovic said.
‘I felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L’Équipe interview as I didn’t want to let the journalist down, but did ensure I socially distanced and wore a mask except when my photograph was taken.’
He also addressed the ‘human errors’ on his travel declaration which failed to declare that he had visited Spain in the 14 days before his arrival at Melbourne Airport.
‘This was submitted by my support team on my behalf – as I told immigration officials on my arrival – and my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia,’ Djokovic continued.
‘This was a human error and certainly not deliberate. We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur.
‘Today, my team has provided additional information to the Australian government to clarify this ‘matter.’
Djokovic had been granted a medical exemption to play in Melbourne by Tennis Australia. He believed he had met criteria set by Australia’s advisory board on immunisation and been given a federal government declaration he could travel.
He took his case to the Federal Circuit Court where the federal government agreed to settle the case and Judge Anthony Kelly quashed the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa on Monday.
The tennis star, a vaccine sceptic, fuelled widespread anger in Australia when he announced last week he was heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open with a medical exemption to requirements for visitors to be inoculated against COVID-19
Judge Kelly found that tearing up Djokovic’s visa had been unreasonable and he had not been given enough time by Australian Border Force officials to respond to their concerns.
Having beaten the Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, Djokovic then had to contend with Mr Hawke, a close ally of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
‘Following today’s Federal Circuit and Family Court determination on a procedural ground, it remains within Immigration Minister Hawke’s discretion to consider cancelling Mr Djokovic’s visa,’ a spokesman for Mr Hawke had said on Monday night.
‘… The minister is currently considering the matter.’
Judge Kelly had said on Monday if the government intended to cancel Djokovic’s visa the Federal Circuit Court must be given ample notice to prepare for future proceedings.
Mr Hawke had three options open to him.
He could have let Djokovic stay in Australia to compete in the Open, he could re-cancel his visa and ban the star from coming to Australia for three years, or he could cancel the visa but not impose a three-year ban.
Either of the second and third options was likely to lead to more legal action.
The Australia Open starts on January 17 when Djokovic wanted to launch his bid to become the most-decorated men’s singles player of all time.
Djokovic is currently level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slam titles. Federer is out of this year’s tournament with injury, while Nadal will be playing.
More to follow…
NOVAK DJOKOVIC’S AUSTRALIAN OPEN SAGA
Novak Djokovic’s defence of his Australian Open title remains in doubt after Australian immigration officials cancelled his visa for the second time.
Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to challenge the dramatic decision taken by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday, the day after the nine-time champion was drawn to face Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.
Here’s how the saga has unfolded:
Jan 4: Djokovic tweets that he is on his way to the Australian Open under a medical exemption. He writes on Instagram: ‘I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!!’
Jan 5: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warns Djokovic he will be on the ‘next plane home’ if his medical exemption is deemed insufficient, and is adamant Djokovic will not receive preferential treatment.
Jan 5: Djokovic’s visa is cancelled upon his arrival in Melbourne. The Australian Border Force announces that the player ‘failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements for Australia’.
Jan 6: Djokovic is sent to the Park Hotel in Melbourne after being refused a visa. He launches an appeal, which is adjourned until 10am on January 10. Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic says Djokovic is the victim of ‘persecution’.
Jan 9: Djokovic’s lawyers claim he was granted a vaccine exemption to enter Australia because he recorded a positive Covid-19 test in Serbia on December 16. However, social media posts suggest he attended a number of social events in the days following his apparent diagnosis.
Jan 10: Djokovic’s visa cancellation is quashed by Judge Anthony Kelly, who orders the Australian Government to pay legal costs and release Djokovic from detention within half-an-hour. Djokovic says he is ‘pleased and grateful’ and wishes to ‘stay and try to compete’.
Jan 11: Djokovic’s title defence remains in doubt as the Australian Immigration Minister ponders whether to over-ride the court’s ruling, reportedly due to an alleged misleading claim made by Djokovic on his entry form relating to his movements in the 14 days prior to arrival in Australia.
Jan 12: Djokovic admits making an ‘error of judgement’ by attending an interview with a French journalist while Covid positive. He adds that, although he attended a children’s tennis event the day after being tested, he did not receive notification of the positive test until after the event.
Jan 13: Djokovic is drawn to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.
Jan 14: Immigration minister Minister Alex Hawke cancels Djokovic’s visa for a second time, saying in a statement it was ‘on health and good order grounds’.
Reporting by PA