Novak Djokovic set to be deported from Australia after losing second visa appeal hearing

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Tennis star Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic is set to be deported from Australia after the country’s Federal Court rejected an appeal against the re-cancellation of his visa.

Three Federal Court judges upheld a decision made on Friday by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.

The full reasons behind the court’s unanimous ruling will be published in the “coming days”.

There was the possibility of a further legal challenge but it was confirmed half an hour after the ruling that Djokovic was not seeking that option.

Australian media reported he would leave the country on Sunday evening.

Djokovic, whose trouble entering Australia has centred around his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, had been scheduled to begin his quest on Monday for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title and 21st Grand Slam crown but has now been replaced in the draw.

He is now facing a potential three-year ban from travelling to Australia and will be permitted to return only in “compelling circumstances that affect the national interest”.

In a statement via The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Djokovic said: “I would like to make a brief statement to address the outcomes of today’s court hearing. I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this.

“I am extremely disappointed with the ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open.

“I respect the court’s ruling and I’ll cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.

“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love. I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.

“Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength to me.”

Sunday morning’s appeal hearing followed Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision on Friday to cancel the world No 1’s visa for a second time on the grounds of “health and good order”.

Government lawyers argued that Djokovic risked whipping up anti-vaccination sentiment during Australia’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 since the pandemic began.

“This cancellation decision was made on health, safety and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“I welcome the decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe.

“I thank the Court for their prompt attention to these issues and the patience of all involved as we have worked to resolve this issue. It’s now time to get on with the Australian Open and get back to enjoying tennis over the summer.”

Supporters of Djokovic listened in to the court ruing
Supporters of Djokovic listened in to the court ruing

The reaction was very different in Serbia, where President Aleksandar Vucic, said in a statement reported by Novosti: “I talked to Novak a while ago and I encouraged him and I told him that I can’t wait for him to come to Serbia and return to his country, and to be where he is always welcome.

“They think that they humiliated Djokovic, but they humiliated themselves, and he can return to his country and look everyone in the eye with his head held high.”

The saga leaves many questions for Tennis Australia, which pushed for exemptions to be available for players in Djokovic’s position despite widespread public opposition.

In a brief statement, the organisation said: “Tennis Australia respects the decision of the Federal Court. We look forward to a competitive and exciting Australian Open 2022 and wish all players the best of luck.”

The ATP was stronger, describing what has played out over the last week and a half as a “deeply regrettable series of events” and said Djokovic’s absence was “a loss for the game”.

It remains to be seen where Djokovic will play next, with Australia far from the only country where he is likely to experience travel issues if he continues to refuse the vaccine.

Djokovic, 34, spent Saturday night in an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne, having previously spent four nights detained after having his visa cancelled upon his arrival in Australia on January 5.

His visa was initially cancelled on the basis that it did not facilitate entry with the medical exemption he had been granted by Tennis Australia and Victoria State government. The exemption had been granted due to Djokovic having recently tested positive for Covid-19.

However, the nine-time Australian Open champion won his initial appeal against the ruling and having been released, was included in Thursday’s first-round draw, in which he was matched with unseeded Serb Miomir Kecmanovic.

After winning his initial appeal, Djokovic admitted he made an “error of judgement” by attending an interview and photoshoot with a French newspaper after testing positive for Covid-19 last month, as well as addressing a false declaration on his travel form as a mistake made by his agent, which he put down as “human error” and “not deliberate”.

There has been criticism of the way the Australian government has handled the situation but public opinion has been firmly in favour of Djokovic being sent home.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has hit out at the Australian government, accusing it of “harassing” and “maltreating” Djokovic, and asking whether it is trying to score political points ahead of upcoming elections.

The Spaniard has made it clear on a number of occasions that he disagrees with Djokovic’s resistance to the Covid-19 vaccination and the degree to which his ongoing visa battle has overshadowed the tournament is clearly a frustration to many.

Speaking at his pre-tournament press conference, Nadal said: “It’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, without a doubt. But there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event.

“Australian Open is much more important than any player. If he’s playing finally, OK. If he’s not playing, Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him.”