A locked-up Novak Djokovic is racing against the clock to mount a legal challenge against his deportation from Australia, as more details emerge about his rejection at Melbourne Airport.
In what his country’s president has slammed as “harassment”, the Serbian tennis star has been ordered out of the country after being detained for more than nine hours when he could not prove he had the right documents to enter Australia.
Djokovic, who openly challenges COVID-19 vaccinations, will spend Thursday in a quarantine facility where he plans to consult lawyers to fight against his visa cancellation.
The rest of his entourage has been allowed in to Melbourne.
The president of Serbia has now vowed to “fight” on behalf of the World No.1 while Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeated that “rules are rules”.
“Entry with a visa requires double vaccination, or a medical exemption,” Mr Morrison said at a press conference just before 11.15am Thursday.
“I am advised that such an exemption was not in place, and as a result he is subject to the same rule as anyone else.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said on Instagram: “I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately.”
“In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice. Novak is strong, as we all know.”
The Serbian embassy in Canberra subsequently lobbied the Australian government to allow Djokovic into the country.
In response, Mr Morrison called Serbia “a good friend of Australia.”
Fans of the star gathered at Tullamarine airport to show their support, a day before Serbian Orthodox Christmas.
As news of Djokovic’s rejection broke on Thursday morning, Mr Morrison took to Twitter to remark “rules are rules” when it comes to visa applications.
“No one is above these rules,” the PM said.
“Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.”
Although Djokovic initially claimed to have a medical exemption to enter the country, the tennis champ was taken directly to an isolated room at Tullamarine airport after touching down on Wednesday night.
The Australian Border Force confirmed in a statement that Djokovic was detained and had access to his phone.
“I have no clue what’s going on, they’ve kept my son in captivity for five hours now,” Djokovic’s father Srdjan told Russian news agency Sputnik.
“If they don’t let him go in half a hour, we’ll gather in the streets, this is a battle for everyone.”
The ABF said Djokovic’s visa was cancelled because he “failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia.”
When asked how Djokovic was able to land in Melbourne in the first place, Mr Morrison said “people try to run the border all the time”.
“It is on them to have the proof to show why they would not have to be vaccinated,” the PM said.
“He was unable to furnish that proof to Border Force officials at the airport last night – they are the rules and it happens on many occasions, and that is what has now happened.”
An ABF spokesperson added: “Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia.
According to Reuters, Djokovic could mount a court challenge as soon as Thursday.
When asked on Thursday morning about who granted Djokovic the initial visa exemption, Mr Morrison put the blame squarely on the Victorian government.
Yet Victoria’s acting Sports Minister Jaala Pulford had already accused the federal government of lobbying for the visa.
“We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam,” she said on Twitter on Wednesday.
However federal Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has since hit back, saying that federal authorities “did not request” Victorian support for a visa.
“The ABF reached out to the Victorian government to validate their public statements about their support for Mr Djokovic’s entry, and whether Victoria had further information related to his medical exemption documentation,” she said.
Tennis stars speak out
The row between Djokovic and the Australian government has caused a stir in the world of pro tennis.
American player Tennys Sandgren threw his weight behind the Serbian champ when he was denied entry into Australia.
“Just to be crystal clear here, two separate medical boards approved his exemption, and politicians are stopping it,” he posted on Twitter.
“Australia doesn’t deserve to host a grand slam.”
Australian tennis players James Duckworth and Alex de Minaur had earlier given a less decisive reaction while speaking to the press at the ATP Cup in Sydney.
“Yeah, apparently it’s an independent panel. So yeah, if he’s fit the criteria, he should be able to come,” Duckworth said.
“That’s very politically correct from you,” de Minaur replied, with a chuckle.
“It’s very interesting, that’s all I’m gonna say,” de Minaur continued.
“But, hey, it is what it is.”
Russian star Nata Vikhlyantseva previously said she was unable to participate in the Australian Open because even though she’s fully vaccinated, the Australian government doesn’t recognise the Sputnik vaccine.