After days of uncertainty, the saga surrounding Novak Djokovic’s participation in this year’s Australian Open came to an end on Sunday.
After losing his legal fight to a decision to revoke his visa for the second time, the tennis star boarded an Emirates flight bound for Dubai.
Three Federal Court justices unanimously dismissed Djokovic’s attempt to reverse the immigration minister’s decision to terminate his visa in a virtual hearing earlier in the day, but did not give reasons for their decision.
The world No. 1 was due to play in the Australian Open on Monday night in Melbourne, where he had hoped to capture a record-tying 21st men’s grand slam trophy.
The year’s first tennis grand slam was overshadowed by a high-profile off-the-court drama pitting one of sports’ top stars against Australia’s government and public health experts.
Djokovic stated in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed” by the decision and that he would work with officials to get out of the country.
“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” the statement continued.
“I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.”
Although Djokovic’s final destination after landing in Dubai is unknown, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic stated her excitement to see the country’s star return home.
“I think the decision is scandalous. I am disappointed and I think it has shown how the rule of law functions in some other countries, i.e. how it doesn’t function,” said Brnabic in an interview with Beta News Agency in Belgrade.
“I look forward to seeing Djokovic in his own country, in Serbia, and to go through this together with him and give him our support in this difficult time for him.”
Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke praised the court’s judgement and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to tough border controls.
To keep Covid-19 out, Australia used to have some of the harshest border restrictions in the world. Hawke claimed that the rules kept Australians “safe” during the pandemic and that they were “fundamental” in “protecting Australia’s social cohesion.”
The statement stated, “Australians have made great sacrifices to get to this point.”
In a statement to the media, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reaffirmed his remarks.
“This cancellation decision was made on health, safety and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so. I welcome the decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe ” he stated.
“I thank the Court for their prompt attention to these issues and the patience of all involved as we have worked to resolve this issue. It’s now time to get on with the Australian Open and get back to enjoying tennis over the summer.”
Despite the fact that Covid-19 cases are on the rise in Australia, the country has a high vaccination rate and a low Covid-19 mortality toll when compared to other countries.
Over the course of the epidemic, the country reached 1 million Covid-19 instances last week, with more than half of those occurring in the last two weeks.
What occurred in the court
Hawke’s decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa was deemed “unreasonable” at a hastily convened Federal Court hearing on Sunday.
The 34-year-old Serbian tennis player appealed the decision of the immigration minister on three grounds, including that the minister failed to evaluate the repercussions of terminating his visa correctly.
Hawke’s decision was “irrational,” according to Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood, because the minister neglected to consider that the act itself could galvanise anti-vaxxers, which the government hoped to avoid.
Hawke’s lawyer, Stephen Lloyd, argued the minister didn’t have to establish Djokovic was a risk to public health under Australia’s Migration Law, only that he “could” be.
He claimed that Djokovic’s anti-vax stance was proven by his refusal to get vaccinated despite having the option before travelling in Australia.
He went on to say that the notion that Djokovic was anti-vaccination was enough to incite anti-vaxxers in the country, and that the tennis star’s apparent contempt for Covid-19 standards meant that others would follow in his footsteps and disobey public health orders.
Tennis Australia, the country’s governing body for tennis and the host of the Australian Open, said it “respects the decision of the Federal Court” on Djokovic’s visa.
Djokovic has been replaced in the draw by Salvatore Caruso of Italy, who will face Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia.
The decision to sustain Djokovic’s visa cancellation was termed by the ATP as “the end of a deeply regrettable series of events,” and his absence from the Australian Open was seen as “a loss for the game.”
The storey of a long-running saga
Djokovic’s visa was originally cancelled shortly after his arrival on January 5, and the saga began about two weeks ago.
Unless they have a medical exemption, all international entrants in Australia are required to be vaccinated against Covid-19, which Djokovic is not.
Djokovic claimed he thought he could join since he was granted an exemption by two independent panels affiliated with Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government because he was infected with Covid-19 in December.
The federal government maintained that prior infection with Covid-19 is not a viable justification for an exemption under its criteria.
Djokovic was transported to the Park Hotel in Melbourne, which also serves as a refugee holding centre, upon his arrival, while lawyers prepared a case to reverse the judgement.
Judge Anthony Kelly found on Monday that border police were “unreasonable” in cancelling Djokovic’s initial visa to enter Australia and ordered him to be released from immigration detention.
Hawke cancelled Djokovic’s visa for the second time on Friday, but the government agreed not to deport the tennis star over the weekend pending the outcome of his case.
Despite the fact that a court verdict was ultimately obtained, the events of the last two weeks continue to divide opinion, and the aftermath is expected to persist for days.
It’s unknown when Djokovic will return to the court after saying he needed “some time to rest and rejuvenate, before making any further statements.”
At the French Open in May, he will have the opportunity to break the men’s major slam championship record, but the saga has prompted questions about how unvaccinated players will compete on the season’s circuit.
It also risks tarnishing Djokovic’s remarkable achievements in the sport, as the topic continues to divide people around the world.
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