Djokovic’s Australian visa canceled again in public interest

Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates his match point against Canada's Milos Raonic during their men's singles match on day seven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia on Feb. 14, 2021. A new global coronavirus flashpoint occurred this week when Djokovic — a vocal vaccine-mandate critic — was denied entry to Australia. (William West/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
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Chris Bourke Bloomberg News (TNS)

Australia canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time, reversing a court decision that temporarily thwarted the federal government’s bid to deport the unvaccinated tennis star.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke exercised special powers to override the court ruling, just days before the world men’s No. 1 is due to vie for a record 21st Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open. The visa was revoked on health and good order grounds and on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so, he said in a statement Friday.

“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement following the decision. “Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe.”

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Morrison said he wouldn’t comment further on the cancellation due to expected ongoing legal proceedings. At a hearing on Friday, Djokovic’s lawyers submitted a request that the athlete not be detained before appearing before border officials Saturday, after which he would enter detention until a hearing as soon as Sunday. Judge Anthony Kelly granted the request later Friday.

A last-minute request to relocate Djokovic’s detention to avoid a media frenzy triggered a barbed response from the judge.

“I will not be a party to or in any way inveigled into the very real possibility of a media circus,” Kelly said, before allowing the detention location to be agreed on later.

Djokovic was entered into the Australian Open on Thursday despite lingering doubts over his ability to play, with the number one seed due to face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in his first match.

Public outrage has dogged the champion since his arrival in the country last week. The revelation that he’d secured a medical exemption to play in the tournament unleashed a wave of anger in a country that’s endured some of the toughest curbs seen in the pandemic, with Melbourne becoming one of the world’s most locked down cities. While Victoria state granted Djokovic the exemption, federal officials overturned his visa on arrival.

Kelly quashed the visa cancellation in a court hearing on Monday, saying the player wasn’t given enough time to fully respond to officials who denied him entry to Australia. He warned that any attempt by minister Hawke to use his personal cancellation powers could mean that Djokovic wouldn’t be able to return to Australia for three years.

“In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr. Djokovic,” Hawke said in the statement Friday. “The Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders.”

The move comes as the prime minister seeks to show his government is managing the pandemic crisis just months ahead of national elections that must be held by May this year.

Djokovic this week caused further controversy in Australia and abroad when he admitted that he attended a newspaper interview and photo shoot when he knew he was infectious with COVID-19. He also blamed “human error” for an incorrect travel declaration that he used to enter Australia.

Raiffeisen Bank International, a Djokovic’s sponsor, says it’s “closely observing the current situation” related to the athlete, according to emailed comments.

More than 90% of Australian adults are fully vaccinated and restrictions remain on those who aren’t. People who haven’t had at least two doses of vaccine are restricted from entering most indoor venues in Victoria as the state seeks to curb the spread of the omicron variant and ease pressure on hospitals.

The country reported more than 100,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time in a single day on the Saturday after Djokovic arrived.

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