Novak Djokovic has avoided immediate deportation overnight but is set to be detained by immigration officials on Saturday after his visa was cancelled for a second time.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his discretionary powers late on Friday afternoon to cancel the world No.1’s visa which also means a three-year ban from entering Australia.
The tennis star’s lawyers will pursue a dramatic eleventh-hour court challenge over the weekend, with the main hearing scheduled for Sunday ahead of the Australian Open due to start on Monday.
The ongoing visa saga came to another dramatic head on Friday evening when the minister announced his decision at 5.53pm, setting in motion a race back to the courts to prevent Djokovic being shipped out of the country.
Djokovic’s people were served documents at 6.03pm, about ten minutes after Mr Hawke made the decision public.
The tennis star’s lawyers quickly sought an injunction in an urgent directions hearing in the Federal Circuit Court.
At the hearing, Judge Anthony Kelly ordered Djokovic attend a meeting with immigration officials for an interview at 8am on Saturday after which the sportsman will be detained from 10am.
A court hearing will be held at 10.15am for largely procedural issues ahead of the main legal event on Sunday where Djokovic’s lawyers will challenge the grounds for his latest visa cancellation.
Djokovic’s team is considering a number of grounds against the minister’s decision in a formal application to be filed on Saturday.
His lawyer Nick Wood SC gave a hint when he told the court the minister had justified Djokovic’s deportation on the grounds his presence would excite anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia.
Mr Wood described this reasoning as “patently irrational”.
A statement from the minister Mr Hawke said he cancelled the visa “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was held in the public interest to do so.”
The announcement again made headlines around the world and triggered further outcry from Djokovic’s supporters in his Serbian homeland.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed the minister’s decision.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” he said in a statement.
“That is what the (immigration) minister is doing in taking this action today.
“Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe, prior to COVID and now during the pandemic.”
The Australian Open begins in Melbourne on Monday, with the world No.1 looking to secure his 10th title at the event.
Djokovic was named in the draw on Thursday, where he is slated to face Serbian compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic.
The unvaccinated Djokovic arrived in the country last Thursday for the Australian Open, when he was detained by border officials and his visa cancelled.
While that decision was later overturned by a federal court on fairness grounds, Djokovic was faced with uncertainty over his future in the grand slam with the possibility of a second visa cancellation from the immigration minister.
Officials looked into potential discrepancies on Djokovic’s declaration form, which stated he did not travel out of the country in the two weeks before his flight to Australia.
Djokovic was filmed playing tennis in Serbia on Christmas Day and was later seen training in Spain on December 31, both in the two-week window.
However, Djokovic has denied he was trying to mislead the government on the form, stating an agent had made an “administrative mistake” while filling out the form.
In a statement posted to social media, the Serbian player also admitted to attending a media interview in Belgrade when he knew he had COVID-19.
The world reacts
The world has reacted to the latest moves against Djokovic, with sports stars, former prime ministers and celebrities weighing in.
In Serbia, fans reacted with dismay after waking up to the news that the world no.1 again faces deportation from Australia.
“I am revolted. I am angry because I did not expect that they would treat the world’s best tennis player like this,” said Mila Aleksic, a Belgrade resident.
“I think he did not deserve this, especially since he is representing our country and he is the No.1 tennis player and the whole world knows him as such. I think he did not deserve being treated this way.”
Djokovic visa cancelled on the grounds of “public interest” relating to “health” and “good order”.
1. With covid cases in the hundreds of thousands, how can it be “health”?
2. How can one person whose job is hitting a ball with a racquet be a threat to civic “order”?
— Leigh Sales (@leighsales) January 14, 2022
Djokovic’s former coach and mentor, Niki Pilic, described the situation as “shameful” and said Djokovic was being treated like a “criminal”.
“People do not understand what it means to be a world champion, what kind of strength, will and morale is needed,” Pilic said.
“It’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t play the Australian Open … he will play at other tournaments.”
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the Djokovic affair was a “political distraction” from Australia’s pandemic crises.
What a surprise! Morrison’s govt cancels #Djokovic’s visa to win the weekend media cycle—showing us all how hairy chested he is. Why on earth did they issue the visa in the first place? One big political distraction from empty shelves & the national shortage of boosters & RATs. https://t.co/SoHuI1Cfwe
— Kevin Rudd (@MrKRudd) January 14, 2022