Rod McGuirk, Associated Press
Published Saturday, January 15, 2022 6:39 am EST
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Novak Djokovic was back in immigration custody on Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid being deported from Australia without vaccination for COVID-19 was transferred to the High Court .
The men’s No. 1 ranked tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion’s title defense is set to come up for hearing in federal courts on Sunday, a day before the start of the year’s first Grand Slam tennis tournament.
Djokovic and his lawyers held a morning meeting with immigration officials, and by mid-afternoon, Australian media reported that the tennis star had been taken back into custody. Television footage showed the 34-year-old Serb wearing a face mask sitting in a vehicle near an immigration detention hotel.
He spent four nights at a hotel near downtown Melbourne before being released last Monday, when he won a court challenge on procedural grounds against the cancellation of his first visa.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday withheld visas, which were originally revoked, upon landing at Melbourne airport on January 5.
Returning to the country from exile from Australia could result in a three-year ban, although this may be waived depending on the circumstances.
Djokovic has admitted that his travel announcement was incorrect as it failed to indicate that he had been to several countries over a two-week period before arriving in Australia.
But so Hawke did not decide that it was in the public interest to deport Djokovic.
Djokovic’s lawyers filed documents in court, revealing that Hawke said the tennis star was “considered by some as an amulet of anti-vaccination sentiment.”
Australia has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world.
But the minister said Djokovic’s presence in Australia could be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public and “be prejudicial to vaccination efforts by others in Australia.”
The Department of Health advised that Djokovic had a “low” risk of contracting COVID-19 at the Australian Open and a “very low” risk of spreading the disease.
The minister cited Djokovic’s comments in April 2020 that he was “against vaccination” and did not want to force anyone to take the vaccine in order to compete.
Djokovic’s lawyers argued that the minister provided no evidence that Djokovic’s presence in Australia “could promote anti-vaccination sentiment.”
Hundreds of activists held a peaceful rally outside the Melbourne Park complex, which hosted the Australian Open, with plans for another rally on Monday.
“We are at Rod Laver Arena to support Novak. He has won nine (Australian Open) titles here. Hopefully it will be No. 10 – if he can get out of quarantine and get his visa back,” Harrison McLean, one of the rally’s organizers, said. “We are a peaceful movement, here to raise awareness and support everyone’s freedom of choice.”
On Saturday, Federal Chief Justice James Allsop announced that he would hear the case along with Justices David O’Callaghan and Anthony Besanco.
The decision to hear appeals by three judges instead of a single judge increases the importance of the case from the point of view of the judiciary and means that any decision will be less likely to be appealed.
Djokovic, who won his last three Australian Open titles, will be allowed out of the hotel on Sunday to go to his lawyers’ office for a video court hearing.
He is looking for a record 21st Grand Slam singles title. He is currently tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the most number of runs in history by one person.
In a post on social media on Wednesday that formed his most widely public comments on the episode, Djokovic blamed his agent for checking the wrong box on his travel document, calling it “a human error and of course Not intentionally”.
In the same post, Djokovic said he proceeded with an interview and a photo shoot with a French newspaper in Serbia, despite learning that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Djokovic says a positive test taken on December 16 is trying to use to justify a medical exemption that would allow him to avoid needing a vaccine on the grounds that he already has COVID- was 19.
Revoking Djokovic’s visa, Hawke said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government is “strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The episode has touched a nerve in Australia, and particularly in the state of Victoria, where locals imposed a lockdown of more than 260 days during the worst of the pandemic.
Australia is facing a huge surge in virus cases driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. On Friday, the nation reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in the state of Victoria. Although many infected people are not getting as sick as they were in previous outbreaks, the increase is putting severe strain on the health system and disrupting supply chains.
Supporters of Djokovic in Serbia are disappointed at the cancellation of their visas. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has accused the Australian government of “harassing” and “abusing” Djokovic and asked whether Morrison’s government is trying to score political points ahead of the upcoming elections.
“Why didn’t you return him immediately, or tell him it was impossible to get a visa?” Vucic asked Australian officials in a social media address. “Why are you troubling him and why are you making not only him, but his family and the entire country free and proud.”
Everyone is required to be vaccinated at the Australian Open.
According to Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to pull out of the tournament before the order of the day’s play is announced, No. 5 seed Andre Rublev will move to Djokovic’s place in the bracket.
If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule is released, he is referred to as the “lucky loser” on the field – a player who loses in a qualifying tournament but is out of action before the competition. This leads to the main draw. has started.
AP Sports writer John Pai contributed to this report.