Australia cancels Novak Djokovic’s visa after tennis No1 was ‘held in room by Melbourne police’

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  • Novak Djokovic
    Novak Djokovic
    Serbian tennis player

Watch: Australian PM backs cancellation of Djokovic's visa

World number one tennis player Novak Djokovic remained in limbo on Thursday after being denied entry to Australia over an issue with his visa.

The player, 34, arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday and was held in the city’s airport for several hours before border officials announced he had not met entry rules and would be deported.

Djokovic was taken to a government detention hotel while his lawyers launched an urgent appeal in court.

A court hearing for an injunction against the move was adjourned after judge Anthony Kelly said he had received no paper work from Djokovic’s lawyers, reported Reuters.

A full hearing is set to take place Monday, but the Australian government could seek a ruling to deport him before then.

Djokovic received a medical exemption to play at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the season, where he is a nine-time winner and the defending champion.

The exemption allows him to play regardless of his vaccination status for Covid-19, something he has not disclosed, but he also needs to meet strict border regulations to enter the country.

In a strongly worded statement, the Australian Border Force confirmed Djokovic’s visa application has been cancelled and he faced being deported.

It read: “The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements.

“The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled.

“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.

“The ABF can confirm Mr Djokovic had access to his phone.”

Watch: Fans protest outside the hotel of Novak Djokovic

The move sparked a diplomatic row with Djokovic’s native Serbia. 

Its president, Aleksandar Vucic said he had spoken with the player to say the country’s diplomats were working to end the “harassment of the world's best tennis player”.

Djokovic's father, Srdjan Djokovic, earlier told the B92 internet portal: “Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter.” 

“In front of the room are two policemen.”

Australia’s Sunrise on 7 morning TV show reported that Djokovic’s father had released a statement to Serbian media.

“I have no idea what’s going on, they’re holding my son captive for five hours,” the reported statement said. 

“This is a fight for the libertarian world, not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world! If they don’t let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street, this is a fight for everyone.”

The Age newspaper in Melbourne earlier reported that Djokovic had landed on Wednesday before midnight local time at Tullamarine Airport, but his entry was delayed because of a mistake with his visa application.

Speculation of a possible issue with the visa emerged while Djokovic was in transit and escalated with mixed messages from federal and state politicians.

Djokovic's revelation on social media that he was heading to Australia seeking a record 21st major title sparked debate and plenty of headlines on Wednesday, with critics questioning what grounds he could have for the exemption and backers arguing he has a right to privacy and freedom of choice.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the “completely legitimate application and process” and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic.

The Victoria state government-mandated that only fully vaccinated players, staff, fans and officials could enter Melbourne Park when the tournament starts on January 17.

Only 26 people connected with the tournament applied for a medical exemption and, Mr Tiley said, only a “handful” were granted.

The names, ages and nationalities of applicants were redacted for privacy reasons before each application for a vaccine exemption was assessed by two independent panels of experts, and Mr Tiley noted Djokovic is under no obligation to reveal his reason for seeking one.

But, he suggested, it would be “helpful” if Djokovic chose to explain it to a Melbourne public still getting over months of lockdowns and severe travel restrictions imposed at the height of the pandemic.

“I would encourage him to talk to the community about it,” Mr Tiley said. “We have been through a very tough period over the last two years.”

Reasons allowed for those applying for a vaccination exemption can include acute major medical conditions, serious adverse reaction to a previous dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, or evidence of a Covid-19 infection within the previous six months.

Jaala Pulford, Victoria state’s acting minister for sports, acknowledged in the Djokovic case that lots of people in the community “will find this to be a disappointing outcome”, but added: “Nobody has had special treatment. The process is incredibly robust.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the world number one, who has previously spoken out against vaccinations, would be on the “next plane home” if he could not provide “acceptable proof” that his exemption was legitimate.

Following the announcement by the ABF, Morrison said that entry exceptions could not be made for anyone.

Morrison tweeted: “Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders.

“No one is above these rules. 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.”

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