After making everyone wait four days for some reason, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced on Friday that the country would seek to deport vaccine skeptic and world No. 1 tennis star Novak Djokovic — again.
Hawke said he was doing so on “health and good order” grounds, and because “it was in the public interest to do so.”
His decision had the backing of Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, who said that “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected.”
Djokovic’s lawyers prevented him from immediate deportation at an emergency court hearing on Friday night, and he will plead his case in front of a judge at a new hearing on Saturday morning, by which time he will be back in immigration detention. But legal experts say Djokovic’s odds of success are low this time around, since the government has such wide latitude over matters of public health and immigration.
Djokovic had previously been ordered to leave the country shortly after his arrival last week. Federal authorities overruled Tennis Australia, which had granted a surprising exemption to the unvaccinated Serb on the basis of a recent COVID-19 infection. An Australian judge ruled in Djokovic’s favor, but days later, the 20-time Grand Slam champion admitted that he made false statements on his immigration form. Those revelations provided the authorities with further justification for keeping him out — likely a politically popular move in a country that has dealt with some of the most severe COVID restrictions in the world over the last two years.
The Australian Open, which Djokovic has won nine times, including last year, begins on Monday, and as of now, he remains in the draw.
Posting on Instagram with the goal of “clarifying misinformation,” Djokovic wrote on Wednesday that his agent made a “human error” on the form stating that he had not traveled abroad in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia on January 5. Not exactly an expert in the art of sneaking around as a global star, he had been seen on social media leaving his home in Spain for his home country of Serbia with video recorded of him in Belgrade on Christmas; within the two-week period of international travel, the act was grounds for a canceled visa and potential imprisonment for up to 12 months. After Reuters reported on his cross-continent trotting, he noted that his team “provided additional information to the Australian government to clarify the matter” on Wednesday.
Djokovic also had to “clarify” another pandemic snafu. The paperwork that said he tested positive for COVID in mid-December — pivotal to the exemption he received, which currently allows him to stay for the Australian Open — stated that he had a positive PCR on December 16. However, on December 17, he was was seen at a tennis event in Belgrade giving awards to kids; on December 18, he sat for a photo shoot for a French sports newspaper. On Instagram on Wednesday, he claimed he “had not received the notification of a positive PCR result” until December 17. While this means he still sat for the photo shoot while knowingly positive — which he described as an “error of judgment” — a copy of his medical certificate for his PCR showed it was returned on December 16, just seven hours after it was administered.
With Australian Open qualifiers already under way, officials in three different countries are tiring of the Djoker’s attempts to clown on their pandemic and/or immigration restrictions. Australian immigration officials are now investigating the error on Djokovic’s application, which they could use as justification to cancel his visa. Spanish officials, who say they have no record of Djokovic being in-country in December, are reportedly investigating his stay to determine how he entered without a vaccination exemption. Djokovic retains broad support in his home country, but even there, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said Djokovic’s actions were a “clear breach” of the nation’s COVID protocol. Days after declaring that she was “sleeping with my mobile phone” so she could come to the 20-time Grand Slam winner’s aid, she said she would consult “relevant authorities and the medical people who are in charge of implementing these regulations.”