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Novak Djokovic’s Fight to Stay in Australia Lives Another Day


Australian border authorities on Saturday detained Novak Djokovic, the world’s top men’s tennis player, in the latest twist in a legal dispute over his travel visa that has sparked worldwide interest and raised tensions during the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak. .

Australia’s immigration minister revoked Djokovic’s travel visa for the second time on Friday over fears that Djokovic was violating the country’s rules aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, arguing that his high-ranking status could hurt the nation’s battle against the coronavirus.

This matter can be resolved in courtroom facing Sunday at 9:30 a.m. local time. If the decision to revoke the visa is upheld, Djokovic, 34, could be forced out of the Australian Open and deported, an astonishing development if it happens this way. Then again, if the court ruled in Djokovic’s favor and allowed him to stay, it would be equally shocking to many who feel the player has already received preferential treatment.

The two sides are expected to present legal papers explaining their arguments to the court on Saturday, after Djokovic ordered to attend the hearing remotely via video from his lawyers’ offices.

Djokovic’s legal team has requested that a full panel of judges consider the case rather than a single judge, which means that the court’s decision on the matter cannot be appealed. Judge David O’Callaghan said he would inform the parties later on Saturday of his decision on the matter.

Djokovic has appealed the latest ruling in a case that highlighted the global challenge of balancing the fight against the Corona virus and a return to a so-called normal life, amid a downward spiral of political fallout.

The issue sparked outrage in Australia and beyond. Djokovic, who refuses to be vaccinated, has long held unconventional and unscientific health views. Many see the visa controversy as his deceptive attempt to take advantage of his superstar sportsman status to break the rules followed by ordinary Australians and others who travel there. The law states that anyone entering the country must be vaccinated against the coronavirus unless they have a medical exemption.

In Serbia, Djokovic’s home, and elsewhere, the ongoing incident is seen by some as an unfair attempt to prevent him from winning a record Grand Slam record by defending his title at the Australian Open, which begins on Monday. Earlier in the week, his supporters clashed with police in Melbourne.

In a statement explaining why Djokovic’s visa was revoked for the second time, Alex Hawke, Australia’s immigration minister, said that if Djokovic was allowed to stay in Australia and play, the influential tennis star could harm efforts to combat the virus. The government has acknowledged that Djokovic does not pose any imminent threat of the disease spreading. It’s more about the example he will set by letting him stay.

“Given the prestige of Mr Djokovic and his role as a role model in the sporting community and more broadly,” Hook said in a statement, “his continued presence in Australia may promote a similar disregard for precautionary requirements after receiving a COVID-19 test in Australia.”

Djokovic’s lawyers argue that the government unfairly based its decision to revoke his visa on the grounds that Djokovic would generate anti-vaccine sentiment rather than the rule of law.

It all comes during an increase in coronavirus cases globally, especially in Australia, which has suffered from prolonged lockdowns and restrictions. Initially, sentiment in Australia seemed to support Djokovic as he came to Melbourne under the impression that he had been granted a legal exemption. But as more information emerged, including false statements and Djokovic’s arrogant approach after he tested positive in December, the mood has largely turned against him.

Djokovic initially got an exemption from the federal requirement that everyone entering Australia be vaccinated against the coronavirus so he could play in the Australian Open. Granted based on a positive test he had in Serbia on December 16. But shortly after arriving at Melbourne airport on January 5, he was detained by federal authorities and sent to a hotel for refugees and asylum seekers.

A judge quickly overturned the detention order on procedural grounds, saying that Djokovic had not been given a fair opportunity to consult with actors and allies, such as the tournament’s organizers. He was allowed to leave the hold, hit the training courts and prepare to compete for what would be his fourth consecutive Australian Open title and tenth ever.

But the investigation revealed irregularities and inaccuracies about Djokovic’s visa application – which Djokovic later admitted and apologized for on Wednesday. The documents did not say that Djokovic, who lives in Monte Carlo, had traveled between Serbia and Spain in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia. Djokovic attributed the error to human supervision by one of his handlers.

The Australian government also expressed concern that on December 18, the day after Djokovic learned he had the virus, he hosted journalists at his tennis center in Belgrade for an interview and photo shoot, without informing them. These discoveries led to a second visa cancellation on Friday.

Some skeptics questioned whether Djokovic’s positive test had been falsified to help him obtain the exemption. Zoran Gojkovic, a member of the coronavirus crisis team in Serbia, said on Friday that the player’s positive test result was correct. He added that Djokovic had not violated any special Serbian laws since the state of emergency was lifted last month.

Djokovic represents a distinct minority among his fellow players on the ATP tour. More than 90 percent have been vaccinated, according to the report by the leading organization in men’s sports, and most have more ease of movement.

In 2022, the round requires vaccinated players to take more than an initial test after they reach the tournament, unless they develop symptoms. Unvaccinated players and team members will have to be tested regularly.

The Australian Open draw has already been completed, with top seed Djokovic set to play Miomir Kikmanovic in the first round. If Djokovic is forced to withdraw after the playing schedule is announced on Sunday, he will be replaced by the so-called lucky loser – the player who lost in the qualifying rounds.

“The Australian Open is far more important than any player,” Rafael Nadal, who has also won 20 Grand Slam titles, said on Saturday. “If he plays at the end, well. If he doesn’t play, then the Australian Open would be great with or without him.”

But Martina Navratilova, a Hall of Fame player and analyst, told Australia’s Sunrise TV that Djokovic should quit on his own to end the drama. “It’s the right thing to do,” she said, “but I don’t think he’d do it because he wants the 21st title.”

Many players were so overwhelmed by the saga that they lamented the distraction from the actual sport. But Alex de Minaur, the 34th-ranked Australian player, expressed sympathy for a nation battling the pandemic.

“Look, the Australians have been through a lot,” he said. “There is no secret about it. It has been very difficult. They have done a lot of work to protect themselves and their borders.”

He added, “If you want to come to the country, you have to get a double vaccine. It’s up to him, his choices, and his judgment.”

In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic accused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been criticized for his handling of the pandemic ahead of the elections, of unfairly targeting Djokovic, a national hero. The president said that the Australian government not only respected Djokovic, but the whole of Serbia as well.

“If you wanted to prevent Novak Djokovic from winning his 10th title in Melbourne, why didn’t you bring him back right away? Why didn’t you tell him: It’s impossible to get a visa? Why don’t you just put it on him but on his family and the whole nation?” Vucic said.

Damian’s CaveAnd Yan ChuangAnd Christopher ClearyAnd Matthew FuttermanAnd Mark SantoraAnd Austin Ramsey And Ben Rothenberg Contribute to the preparation of reports.