Djokovic December Covid Case Used for Exemption, Lawyers Say
(Bloomberg) -- Tennis star Novak Djokovic was given an exemption by Australian authorities to enter the country based on a positive Covid-19 test on Dec. 16, his lawyers said in court documents, ahead of a hearing on Monday.
The lawyers for the world’s number one ranked player said Djokovic was issued an exception from Tennis Australia, the nation’s governing body for the sport -- and also received a document to that effect from the Department of Home Affairs on Jan. 1.
“Mr. Djokovic understood that he was entitled to enter Australia and Victoria and to compete in the Australian Tennis Open,” the lawyers wrote. The 35-page filing was released on Saturday.
Djokovic has been confined since Jan. 5 to a hotel used to detain refugees and asylum seekers, after his visa was revoked when he landed in Melbourne.
A virtual hearing at the Federal Circuit & Family Court of Australia is scheduled at 10 a.m. in Melbourne to decide whether the tennis great will be allowed entry. A ruling against him could see him being deported, ruining his chance for a record 21st Grand Slam victory.
The U.K.’s Daily Mail on Saturday published public images of the tennis star at an event with children in Belgrade around the time he allegedly tested positive for Covid. He also attended an event in Belgrade on Dec. 16 at which he was given a personalized Serbian postage stamp, although his posts about the ceremony came the following day.
Djokovic also attended an event for his foundation on Dec. 16.
Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said on Channel Nine Sunday there was a “clear difference” between visa and entry requirements which stipulate that “you need to be double dose vaccinated, if you’re not an Australian citizen, to come into Australia.”
Birmingham said that has been a “a very clear entry requirement” and “is very clearly communicated to Tennis Australia.”
Czech tennis player Renata Voracova was deported from Australia late Saturday, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported, after competing in a warm-up tournament for the Australian Open this week.
Her visa was canceled by Australian Border Force after she entered the country in late December with the same type of vaccine exemption as Djokovic, the ABC said.
Djokovic, 34, said he was personally opposed to vaccines in 2020, but later clarified that he was no expert and would make the decision that’s right for him. Djokovic hasn’t previously disclosed his vaccination status.
“I wouldn’t want to be forced to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” Djokovic said in 2020, months before the first coronavirus vaccines were available.
He’s known to have tested positive for Covid-19 in 2020, shortly after staging a tennis competition in Belgrade while most of pro sports was still locked down. At least three other players contracted coronavirus after the event.
Djokovic is being held at Melbourne’s Park Hotel, notorious for its poor conditions including reports of maggots in the food served. A special request for Djokovic to have access to a personal chef and a tennis court were denied, The Australian newspaper reported.
The incident has triggered tensions between Serbia, where Djokovic is a national hero, and Australia, which is battling record daily virus cases.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told the country’s media that the government had managed to get Djokovic a laptop, SIM card and exercise equipment, as well as a delivery of gluten-free food to cater to his restricted diet.
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