Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Double Fault: Visa Revoked Again, Novak Djokovic Faces Deportation Days Before Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic is again facing deportation after the Australian government revoked his visa for the second time, in the latest twist in the ongoing saga over whether the top-ranked tennis player will be allowed to compete in the Australian Open. tennis. despite being unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said on Friday he used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on grounds of public interest – just three days before kick-off at the Australian Open, where Djokovic won a record nine of his 20 titles. Grand Slam. .

Djokovic’s lawyers were expected to appeal to the Federal District and Family Court, which they had already successfully done last week on procedural grounds after his visa was first canceled when he landed at Melbourne airport.

Friday night’s court hearing revealed that Djokovic would not be detained or deported overnight, but he would have to attend a meeting with his lawyers and immigration officials in Melbourne at 8 am local time on Saturday.

Deportation from Australia may result in a three-year ban on return to the country, although this may be waived depending on the circumstances.

Hawke said he canceled the visa “for reasons of health and order, on the grounds that it is in the public interest”. His statement added that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government is “strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Morrison himself welcomed the impending deportation of Djokovic. The whole episode touched a nerve in Australia, and especially in the state of Victoria, where locals endured hundreds of days of lockdown during the worst of the pandemic, and adult vaccination rates are over 90%.

Australia is currently facing a massive surge in cases of the virus caused by a highly contagious variant of omicron. On Friday, the country reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in the state of Victoria. While many infected people are not getting sicker than in previous outbreaks, the surge is still putting a serious strain on the healthcare system, with more than 4,400 people hospitalized. It also causes disruption to jobs and supply chains.

“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods. … Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic and they rightly expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said in a statement. “That’s what the minister is doing by taking these actions today.”

All Australian Open players, including players, their cheerleaders and spectators, must be vaccinated against the coronavirus disease. Djokovic was not vaccinated and was seeking a medical exemption on the grounds that he had COVID-19 in December.

This exemption was approved by the Victorian government and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a travel visa. But the Australian Border Guard rejected this exception and canceled his visa when he landed in Melbourne on 5 January.

Djokovic spent four nights in a hotel for detained immigrants before a judge overturned the decision on Monday. The decision allowed Djokovic to move freely around Australia and he has been training daily at Melbourne Park to prepare for the tournament he has won in every one of the last three years.

He originally had practice scheduled for Friday afternoon at Rod Laver Arena, the tournament’s main stadium, but rescheduled it for the morning and finished hours before Hawke’s decision was announced in the early evening.

After Hawke’s visa was cancelled, the media began to gather outside the building where Djokovic was reportedly meeting with his lawyers.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Open said tournament organizers are yet to comment on the latest developments in the Djokovic situation, which overshadowed all other storylines ahead of this year’s first Grand Slam tournament.

“This is not the best situation for anyone,” said Andy Murray, three-time Grand Slam champion and five-time Australian Open finalist. “I just want this to be obviously resolved. I think it would be good for everyone if that were the case. It just feels like it’s been going on for quite some time – not good for tennis, not good for the Australian Open, not good for Novak.”

Tennis Australia announced that nine players would hold pre-tournament press conferences on Saturday and Djokovic’s name was not on the list.

With his legal situation still in limbo, Djokovic was drawn into the draw on Thursday to face Miomir Kecmanovic in an all-Serbian match in the first round.

Under Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to pull out of the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, the No. 5 seed Rublev will move to Djokovic’s place in the draw and face Kecmanovic.

If Djokovic exits the tournament after the schedule is released on Monday, he will be replaced on the field by a so-called “lucky loser” – a player who lost in the qualifier but was promoted to the main draw due to another player being eliminated before the competition. started.

And if Djokovic plays in a match – or more – and is then told that he can no longer participate in the tournament, his next opponent will simply go to the next round, and there will be no replacement.

Melbourne-based immigration lawyer Kian Bone said Djokovic’s lawyers face an “extremely difficult” task of obtaining court orders over the weekend to allow their client to play next week.

Speaking hours before Hawke’s decision was announced, Bone said: “If you pull it out later than he did now, I think from a strategic point of view, he will really undercut Djokovic’s legal team in terms of what options or remedies he can get. “.

Djokovic’s lawyers will need to contact the duty judge of the Federal District and Family Court or a superior federal court judge to obtain two urgent orders. One of the orders will be an injunction against his deportation, like the one he won in court last week.

The second would force Hawke to grant Djokovic a visa to play.

“This second order is almost without precedent,” Bone said. “Very rarely do courts order a member of the executive branch to issue a visa.”

___

McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.

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