Novak Djokovic free in Australia but threat of deportation still looms

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MELBOURNE – Novak Djokovic woke up on Tuesday to his first morning outside immigrant detention in Australia, nearly a week after arriving in the country – and in international fury over his vaccination status against COVID-19.

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However, the world number one remains in danger of being federally detained for the second time and deported, despite Monday’s court ruling overturning the government’s earlier decision to cancel his visa.

Djokovic was back in training after winning this legal challenge, thanking the judge who released him from immigrant detention and saying he remained focused on trying to win a record-breaking 21st major tennis tournament in the world. ‘Australian Open next week.

“I am happy and grateful that the judge overturned my visa cancellation,” Djokovic wrote on Twitter, where he posted a photo of himself on the Melbourne Park courthouse after a few chaotic days. “Despite everything that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete in the Australian Open.”

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Djokovic’s plight has gained international attention, creating a political feud between Canberra and Belgrade and fueling heated debates over mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office said it held talks with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic on Monday. Morrison’s office said the Australian leader had “explained our non-discriminatory border policy”, while Serbian media said Brnabic had stressed the importance for Djokovic of being able to prepare for the tournament. Both said they agreed to stay in touch on the matter.

John Alexander, Morrison’s Liberal Party member and former professional tennis player, said it would be a mistake for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to use his discretion to deport the Serbian player.

Doing so would “diminish” the status of the Australian Open, Alexander said.

“We were previously the poor cousin of the four events,” he said. “We have a lot for us to do, but we have to treat it with care. “

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Hawke’s office said Monday evening that the minister was still considering whether he would use his discretion under the migration law to cancel Djokovic’s visa for the second time. Spokesmen for the minister did not respond to calls for comment on Tuesday.

ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis, applauded the court’s ruling, saying the dispute was “damaging on all fronts, including to Novak’s well-being and his preparation for the Australian Open “.

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ATP said the situation highlighted the need for a clearer understanding and communication of the rules. He said he strongly recommends all players get vaccinated and noted that 97% of the top 100 players are vaccinated.

DECISION OF THE COURT

Judge Anthony Kelly said he overturned the decision to block Djokovic’s entry because the player did not have enough time to respond.

Officials at Melbourne airport, where Djokovic was held when he landed late Wednesday, had reneged on an agreement giving him until 8:30 a.m. to speak to Tennis Australia and lawyers, Kelly said.

Djokovic received the medical exemption because he contracted COVID-19 last month – the second time he has been infected. The player, who has long opposed compulsory vaccination, confirmed he was not vaccinated.

Kelly’s decision did not directly address whether this exemption was valid, a fact the government had disputed.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN

The Australian Open starts on January 17th. Djokovic has won the tournament, one of four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, in the past three years and nine times in all.

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Spain’s Rafa Nadal, who is tied in 20 majors with Djokovic and Switzerland’s Roger Federer, called the heavy preparation for the tournament a “circus” and said the “fairest decision” had been made.

Nick Kyrgios said that by supporting the vaccination he felt “embarrassed as an Aussie athlete to see what this guy has done for us and for the sport. I just don’t think the way we deal with them is things to be correct.

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However, former US player-turned-expert Pam Shriver warned on Twitter that the controversy may not be over: “If he plays, the boos will be deafening.”

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Public opinion in Australia, which is battling a wave of Omicron infections and where more than 90% of the adult population is doubly vaccinated, has largely opposed the player.

Resistance in Melbourne, home of the Open, was particularly noisy after the city experienced the longest cumulative lockdown in the world.

“We’ve had to go through vaccination protocols and blockages for so long and he goes about it and does pretty much what he loves because he’s the best tennis player in the world,” told Reuters Keith Moore, a Melbourne resident.

Victoria Prime Minister Daniel Andrews, whose administration initially granted Djokovic an exemption, has said the decision to re-detain him rests with the federal government.

Andrews’ leftist government in Victoria and the Conservative administration of Prime Minister Scott Morrison have pledged to point the finger at responsibility for the saga.

Under the Australian federal system, states and territories can issue exemptions from vaccination requirements to enter their jurisdictions. However, the federal government controls international borders and can challenge such exemptions.

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