JOHN Pye and Rhode McGeark
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) –
Novak Djokovic admitted his Australian travel declaration was misleading as the government moves closer to a decision to deport a Serbian tennis star who is not vaccinated against COVID-19 for reasons of public interest.
The No. 1 male tennis player had his visa canceled on arrival in Melbourne last week when his vaccine exemption was questioned, but he won a legal battle on procedural grounds that allowed him to remain in the country. He continues to face deportation, a decision entirely up to Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, if deemed to be in the public interest for health and safety reasons.
Hawke has been considering the matter since a judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa on Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said most Australians disapprove of the nine-time and reigning Australian Open tennis champion coming to Melbourne to compete in violation of strict national quarantine rules due to the pandemic.
“Most of us thought that since Mr. Djokovic had not been vaccinated twice, he would be asked to leave,” Joyce told Nine Network on Thursday. “Well, that was our point of view, but not the point of view of the court.”
“The vast majority of Australians … did not like the idea that another person, be it a tennis player or … the king of Spain or the queen of England, could come here and introduce a different set of rules than everyone else. what else to deal with, ”added Joyce.
In a statement posted to his social media accounts on Wednesday, the tennis star blamed his support group for “human error” for not reporting that he had traveled for a two-week period prior to entering Australia.
Submitting false information on the form may be grounds for deportation, which is the final twist in the saga of whether the athlete should be allowed to remain in Australia despite not having been vaccinated. The initial news that Djokovic had been granted an exception to strict vaccination rules to enter the country sparked outrage, and the ensuing controversy has since marred preparations for the Australian Open.
Djokovic acknowledged the omissions when he tried to clarify what he called “ongoing disinformation” about his movements after he contracted the infection last month, although he did not elaborate on what inaccuracies he spoke of.
The statement was released while Djokovic was at Rod Laver’s arena training, this is his third appearance on the main court of the tournament since he was released after four nights in immigration detention.
Djokovic remains in limbo as this year’s first tennis tournament kicks off on Monday. The stakes are particularly high as he is aiming for a record 21st men’s Grand Slam singles title.
Deportation could lead to sanctions, up to a three-year ban on entry to Australia, which is a daunting prospect for a player who has won almost half of his 20 Grand Slam singles titles here.
Court documents detailing Djokovic’s positive test sparked rumors that the star player attended events in his native Serbia last month. Additional questions were also raised about errors in his immigration form that could potentially lead to the cancellation of his visa again.
In uniform, Djokovic said he had not traveled 14 days before his departure to Australia, despite being seen in Spain and Serbia at the time.
In a statement, Djokovic characterized the recent comment as “offensive” and said he would like to respond to it in the interest of “easing broader community concerns about my presence in Australia.”
The 34-year-old Serb said he underwent rapid tests that were negative and had no symptoms before he tested positive for the PCR test, which he performed due to “caution” after attending a basketball game in Belgrade 1 December. 14.
According to him, he received the result late on the evening of December 17 and abandoned all his obligations, except for a long-time interview with the newspaper L’Equipe the next day.
“I felt compelled to go forward … but kept social distance and wore a mask, except when I was photographed,” Djokovic said.
The L’Equipe reporter, who interviewed the athlete, wrote in the newspaper that he and the photographer were also masked during the session and kept their distance, except for a brief moment when Djokovic was saying goodbye. The reporter said he tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday and did not mention his status as a photographer.
“After the interview, I went home to isolate myself for the required period, on reflection it was a misjudgment,” Djokovic said.
At the time, Serbia demanded that those infected with COVID-19 be isolated for at least 14 days. But Djokovic was seen just over a week after testing positive on the streets of Belgrade, though he said he tested negative between the two.
In the meantime, Djokovic has reached out to the Australian Tourism Declaration, stating that it was filed by his support team, and “my agent sincerely apologizes for the administrative error by ticking the wrong box.”
“It was a human error, and certainly not deliberate,” he wrote. “My team has provided additional information to the Australian government to clarify this issue.”
The decision may take some time, but there is time pressure as the draw for the Australian Open grid is to take place on Thursday.
Hawke’s office released a statement Wednesday that Djokovic’s legal team has submitted additional documents and added: “Naturally, this will affect the timing of the decision.”
The question is whether he has a valid exception to the strict rules requiring vaccinations to enter Australia as he recently recovered from COVID-19.
His waiver was approved by the Victorian government and Tennis Australia, the tournament organizer. This appears to have enabled him to obtain a travel visa.
But the Australian Border Service rejected that exception and canceled his visa on arrival, before a federal judge overturned that decision. Government lawyers said the infection was grounds for exclusion only in cases where the coronavirus caused a serious illness, although it is unclear why he was issued a visa in this case.
The initial decision to let him compete sparked complaints that Djokovic was being treated with special treatment, and the subsequent cancellation of his visa sparked accusations that he was targeted once the issue became political. The saga is playing out amid growing concern in Australia about rising COVID-19 cases and the government’s strategy to contain them.
If Djokovic’s visa is revoked, his lawyers can again petition the court for an injunction that will prevent him from being forced to leave the country.
Sydney-based immigration lawyer Simon Jeans said that if Djokovic’s visa were revoked, he would likely be in immigration custody. Djokovic may apply for an interim visa to participate in the tournament pending an appeal. The Immigration Department will have two business days to decide on this application. Jeans said that if Djokovic were denied such a visa, the appeal would usually take weeks.
This story has been updated to correct the quoted parts of Djokovic’s statement. It talked about ongoing disinformation, not ongoing disinformation; obliged, not obliged; my team, not a team. It has also been updated to amend Serbia’s isolation rules after testing positive for COVID-19 in December.
McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia. Associated Press correspondents Dusan Stojanovic from Belgrade, Serbia, and Samuel Petrekin from Brussels contributed to the event.