Djokovic’s Family, President Slam Australia in Deportation Spat
(Bloomberg) -- The family of Novak Djokovic accused Australia of trying to deny the top world tennis star a record 10th Grand Slam victory there, and his country’s president denounced what he called a “political campaign” over Covid-19 protocols.
Djokovic’s lawyers mounted a legal challenge against Australia’s decision to hold him at a hotel used for detaining refugees and expel him after federal officials overruled a state vaccine exemption for the tennis star that sparked a national uproar.
Due to compete in the Australian Open this month, the Serbian player offered insufficient proof to enter the country under current pandemic rules, the Australian Border Force said Thursday. While he was earlier granted a medical exemption to enter the state of Victoria, the federal government revoked that after officials questioned the athlete for hours at Melbourne Airport.
“There are no special cases: rules are rules,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “If you are not double vaccinated and not an Australian resident or citizen, you cannot come.”
Djokovic will remain in detention following a court’s decision to adjourn his appeal to a visa cancellation, The Associated Press reported on Thursday. The court will resume proceedings Monday morning.
He’s in Melbourne to seek a record 21st Grand Slam victory after winning nine Australian Open singles titles, including the past three tournaments.
The about-face is the latest example of confusion surrounding Australian Covid guidelines that’s plaguing both officials and citizens as case numbers continue to surge. Throughout the pandemic, states have largely set their own policies on the entry of overseas and local visitors, as well as lockdowns, but the federal government ultimately decides on who can enter the country.
Djokovic’s plight drew attention in the athlete’s home country, which celebrates Orthodox Christmas on Friday. His family in Belgrade slammed Australian authorities, saying the decision was humiliating and aimed at depriving him of another victory.
“This is the only way for them to stop him from winning the Grand Slam,” his uncle, Goran Djokovic, told reporters in the Serbian capital. At the family’s urging, several hundred fans gathered peacefully in support of Djokovic in front of parliament in the afternoon.
The disparity between policies among states in Australia has caused upheaval during the holiday period, with some demanding tests and different requirements for residents from other regions.
Australia’s Covid-Zero strategy to eliminate coronavirus infections in the community has now been abandoned in all but one of the eight states and territories, with the nation recording more than 64,000 new cases on Wednesday. The two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, have loosened entry restrictions for both overseas and local visitors even as the omicron variant has caused a surge in case numbers.
Djokovic, who has criticized vaccine mandates, was among a handful of competitors granted medical exemptions for the tournament, the first of the four annual Grand Slam events, which begins Jan. 17. But that sparked criticism and anger in Melbourne, which became the world’s most locked-down city during the pandemic.
According to the Australian Associated Press, Djokovic is being kept in the Park Hotel, which has served as a detention center for asylum seekers and suffered from a fire that broke out two weeks ago.
It’s a marked departure from the experience of the world’s tennis elite in 2021 where 14-day hotel quarantine in Melbourne was required with strict rules around daily testing and close contacts.
While many Victorians will welcome that foreign sports celebrities are subject to the same Covid rules as other visitors, Serbia’s leadership reacted with anger.
He needs to move from the “infamous” hotel to a rented house where he can train, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told reporters in Belgrade on Thursday.
A flurry of calls between the respective government officials, including between Serbian Premier Ana Brnabic and Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, should help resolve that, he said.
“What is not fair is to conduct a broad political campaign in which everybody participates, including Australia’s premier, pretending that the same rules apply to everyone,” even as some players with the same status as Djokovic were allowed into the country, Vucic said.
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