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After two weeks of legal back and forth that at times felt like an actual tennis match, an Australian judge has decided that the world’s no. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic is not welcome in Australia. The unvaccinated athlete left the country on a 10:30 p.m. Emirates flight on Sunday, the eve of the Australian Open.
Djokovic was given a medical exemption from Australia’s strict vaccine mandate for visitors by the Australian Tennis Association allowing the No. 1 seeded superstar to play in the Australian Open, which starts Monday. But when he arrived in Australia on Jan. 6, border authorities detained him in an immigration hotel, citing the fact that the tennis association does not have jurisdiction over health mandates.
Four days later, a judge reinstated his visa because he had recovered from COVID in December, which is the only way around the vaccine mandate. But photos and interviews showing a maskless Djokovic in the days after his positive result angered many and turned his saga into a global debate on vaccines. Discrepancies over when he found out he had COVID and where he had traveled made it clear he—or someone else—intentionally or inadvertently lied on the Australian forms.
Australia’s health minister then revoked his visa, citing the fact that he was becoming an icon for the no-vax set and that his presence was a threat to national order. He was granted permission to stay while he appealed the health minister’s decision, which was denied Sunday.
“I am extremely disappointed with the Court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the Minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” Djokovic said in a statement issued Sunday. “I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.”
A three-judge panel ruled that Djokovic’s appeal against the cancellation of his visa on health grounds by Australia’s health minister Alex Hawke did not meet the legal requirements and that Hawke acted in the interest of the country.
“Djokovic’s presence in Australia, by reason of his status and by reason of his publicly expressed views and conduct, may influence others not to be vaccinated or boosted or otherwise act inconsistently with public health advice and policies,” Hawke wrote for the court in defense of his action. “Rightly or wrongly, he’s perceived to endorse an anti-vax view.”
— Shane McInnes (@shanemcinnes) January 16, 2022
The saga has irked Australian Open players who feel the competition has been hijacked by Djokovic’s antics. Many told the star that he should just get the jab and others blamed the Australian Tennis Association for its mixed messaging.
“Novak would have never gone to Australia if he had not been given an exemption to enter the country by the government,” Canadian tennis star and founder of the Professional Tennis Players Association Vasek Pospisil said Sunday. “He would have skipped the Australian Open and been home with his family and no one would be talking about this mess.” He went on to say there was a “political agenda” in Australia. “This is not his fault,” he said. “He did not force his way into the country and did not make his own rules. He was ready to stay home.”
The case is seen as a blow to the anti-vax movement, which had embraced Djokovic as a sort of cult hero. Serbian President Aleksander Vucic criticized Australian authorities for the debacle, saying they “think they humiliated Djokovic” but instead they “humiliated themselves.”
“If you had said that an unvaccinated person cannot enter Australia, then Djokovic either would not have come or would have gotten vaccinated,” he said. “A literal witch hunt has whipped up against one person and one country because they wanted to show Novak Djokovic how world order works, and how they can treat anyone they choose like this.”