Novak Djokovic’s bid for a 10th Australian Open title is over after the full bench of the Federal Court ordered that the Serb be deported.
Three Federal Court judges sat for five hours on Sunday as lawyers for Djokovic and the federal government duelled over the tennis world No.1’s potential impact on anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia.
Chief Justice James Allsop said the court upheld the federal government’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa, with reasons to be published at a later date.
Djokovic has been ordered to pay the costs of the federal government in running the case.
In a statement, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” with the court’s ruling, which meant he could not defend the Australian Open title.
“I am extremely disappointed with the court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” Djokovic said in a statement.
“I respect the court’s ruling and I will co-operate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.
“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love.
“I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.
“Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength to me.”
Djokovic, 34, had been aiming to claim a record 21st grand slam singles title at Melbourne Park, allowing him to edge one clear of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the most prolific men’s player.
Reigning champion Djokovic, the No.1 seed, was scheduled to take on fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic on Rod Laver Arena on Monday night after women’s world No.1 Ash Barty’s clash with Lesia Tsurenko.
But with Djokovic now out of the tournament, it’s understood a lucky loser – a player who lost during qualifying and was then put on standby in case of injury – will now replace him in the draw.
Djokovic brought the legal challenge after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cancelled the star’s visa on Friday evening, ruling that he was a risk to “public health and good order”.
Because Djokovic is a high-profile person who’d spoken out against vaccines, his presence in Australia could excite anti-vaccination sentiment, derail Australia’s vaccination efforts and ultimately affect the health system, Mr Hawke reasoned.
In a statement released on Sunday night Mr Hawke said he welcomed the unanimous decision to uphold ‘‘my decision to exercise my power under the Migration Act to cancel Mr Novak Djokovic’s visa in the public interest’’.
But Djokovic’s lawyers on Sunday argued that Mr Hawke’s decision to cancel the visa was invalid because he’d failed to consider what would happen to anti-vaccine sentiment if Djokovic were detained and deported instead of being allowed to stay.
There was evidence that it was actually the government’s actions in cancelling Djokovic’s visa that would really stir up the anti-vaccine movement, Nicholas Wood SC argued.
Mr Wood said Mr Hawke had failed to weigh up which course of action – letting Djokovic stay, or giving him the boot – would be worse for the country’s efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible against COVID-19.
That meant the visa cancellation was unreasonable and should be overturned, Mr Wood said.
More than 85,000 people followed the drama as the last-ditch legal effort for the star to play in next week’s Australian Open was broadcast on YouTube.
It was the second urgent court hearing for Djokovic in a week, and the second time his visa was cancelled since arriving at Melbourne Airport on January 4.
The argument on Sunday was a far cry from the debate in Monday’s court hearing, which concerned whether Djokovic had a medical exemption that meant he didn’t have to be vaccinated.
After the government conceded it hadn’t shown Djokovic procedural fairness when Border Force agents cancelled his visa at the airport, Mr Hawke looked at the issue himself.
He said he assumed Djokovic had recently been infected with COVID-19 and was a “negligible” risk of transmitting the disease to anybody else.
Instead, the Immigration Minister produced new reasons to kick the Serb out of the country.
Mr Hawke found Djokovic’s high profile and previous statements against vaccination meant others might refuse to be vaccinated and cause civil unrest if he was allowed to stay in the country.
The power the minister used to cancel the visa can only be overturned by a court in very narrow circumstances.
Djokovic watched on from his lawyers’ office in Melbourne after spending Saturday night at Melbourne’s Park Hotel, which is being used as an immigration detention centre.