In the high-stakes legal match between Novak Djokovic and the Australian government, it’s game for Australia, love for Djokovic. The world No. 1 may not be allowed to remain in the country to compete in the Australian Open after the government once again revoked his visa on the basis of his refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“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,” Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Friday, a day after Djokovic was included in the Open draw.
The 34-year-old tennis great will now likely be remanded into the same immigration detention center where he spent four days after trying to enter the country Jan. 6 unless he is granted a “bridging visa” while he appeals the decision. His lawyers have 28 days to appeal the decision.
At a detention hearing late Friday evening in Australia, Judge Anthony Kelly, who previously reinstated Djokovic’s revoked visa, heard evidence from the tennis elite’s lawyers, who called the action by Hawke “patently irrational.” Lawyer Nick Wood asked the judge, “Has Your Honor had time to read the reasons of the minister?” Wood asked Judge Anthony Kelly in court. Kelly suggested the case should be heard in federal court. A new court date has been proposed for Jan. 15.
In the meantime, the court ruled to delay immediate deportation, but if Djokovic is not granted a temporary visa, he can choose to leave the country voluntarily or he could be forcibly deported. Reuters spoke with a source privy to Djokovic’s legal team who confirmed that he is “considering the decision and weighing his options.”
Before the decision, the tennis superstar admitted to sitting for an interview and a photoshoot with a French news outlet after testing positive as well as falsely claiming on his immigration forms that he had not traveled in the 14 days before arriving in Australia. He called attending the photoshoot “an error in judgement” and said the false declaration on the form had been an “administrative mistake” made by someone on his team.
Djokovic, who had attempted to evade disclosing his vaccination status, had received a waiver from the Australian Open to compete before he arrived in Melbourne on Jan. 6. He had tested positive for the coronavirus in December in Serbia, which he asserted gave him immunity and exempted him from Australia’s vaccination mandate.
Australian officials revoked his visa on arrival, citing the country’s mandate that all foreign travelers be vaccinated. A transcript of Djokovic’s interview with a border official in which he said, “I’m not vaccinated” was made public. His family have given multiple press conferences supporting his anti-vaccine stance while he was detained.
The tennis superstar was detained for four days in one of Australia’s most notorious immigration hotels but, following a court hearing hit by a Zoom bomber, won release in court on Jan. 10, a decision met with rowdy protests and police pepper spray.
Djokovic’s imbroglio with the Australian government has invited ire from the country’s people, who have faced one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. More than 90 percent of the population of the state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne, is vaccinated.