Australian authorities cancelled Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time on Friday, all but ending a dramatic saga over whether the unvaccinated world no. 1 men’s tennis player could compete in the Australian Open, which begins Monday.
While Djokovic’s legal team can appeal the decision by Alex Hawke, the Australian government minister in charge of immigration, legal observers say the government has broad authority in immigration cases. Djokovic’s legal team is “considering its options.”
The 34-year-old is still technically scheduled to face off against fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in next week’s opening round, but without a valid visa, the tennis star will likely be ordered back into immigration detention. Djokovic still has legal options, but if he exhausts those, he faces deportation.
The debacle and its stunning plot twists have gripped tennis fans around the world. Djokovic, who won the tournament last year, initially received a visa to enter Australia. But, he was denied entry after landing in Melbourne on Jan. 5 over questions about the legitimacy of a vaccination exemption. A judge reinstated his visa on Jan. 10, but Hawke revoked Djokovic’s visa on Friday, saying that he made the decision in the public interest. The decision also carries a potential three-year ban on being granted additional visas while overseas—meaning the Australian Open, one of the four major tournaments, could be off limits to one of the most successful players in tennis.
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The entire saga could easily have been avoided if Djokovic had been fully vaccinated—as 92% of Australians over 16 have been. The 2022 Australian Open requires fans and staffers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and nearly every player in this year’s lineup entered the country with little trouble by showing proof of vaccination. Australian border officials said they were investigating one other player and an official who were also issued medical exemptions.
The Australian government has faced public backlash for letting the unvaccinated tennis star into the country while it fumbles to deal with an explosion of COVID-19 cases. Australia’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are all at levels dramatically higher than anything seen in the first two years of the pandemic, during which the country maintained some of the world’s toughest border controls and also enforced strict lockdowns to stop transmission of the virus.
The government has also faced criticism for flip-flopping, and dragging out a decision on whether Djokovic could remain in the country. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said it should “never have come to this” because Djokovic should not have been granted a visa to enter the country if he was not eligible for a vaccination exemption.
“If you can’t make a decision on Novak Djokovic, goodness me, how are you guys running the country? This is an absolute shambles,” Tasmanian Sen. Jacqui Lambie, a political independent, told an Australian TV network.
Djokovic is also facing criticism for details that have emerged in the last week, including that he provided false visa information and knowingly attended an interview while infected with COVID-19.
The tennis star posted a statement to his Instagram account on Wednesday saying that he gone to an interview and a photoshoot in Belgrade after being informed that he had tested positive for the virus because he “didn’t want to let the journalist down.” “On reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” he said.
Djokovic also reportedly traveled across Europe before departing for Australia, despite declaring on his visa application that he had not traveled in the 14 days before he left for Australia. Djokovic chalked the declaration up as an administrative error by his agent.
Meanwhile, a Serbian embassy official told local newspaper the Herald Sun on Friday that Djokovic has a diplomatic passport—though it’s unclear whether that will have any effect on his case.
“Djokovic, as our most recognizable representative in the world, is the holder of a diplomatic passport, which should, in diplomatic theory and consular practice, guarantee him adequate treatment when crossing borders,” she reportedly said.
The French sports minister is already on record saying that Djokovic will be allowed to play in the French Open in June.