Novak Djokovic visa cancelled: why is the tennis star being kicked out of Australia? | Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic flew into Melbourne airport on Wednesday night planning to defend his Australian Open title. Instead, the world No 1 is being held in a quarantine hotel and is set to be deported tonight after a remarkable series of events led to his visa being cancelled.

So how on earth did it get to this point?

What happened at Melbourne airport?

Djokovic arrived at Tullamarine airport in Melbourne at 11.30pm on Wednesday night after a 15-hour flight from Dubai.

He was held under armed guard for several hours over concerns with his visa and exemption from vaccine requirements, before Australian Border Force announced his visa had been cancelled.

In a statement, ABF said the tennis star had “failed to provide appropriate evidence” to support his exemption from a requirement to be double vaccinated against Covid.

“The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements,” it said.

“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.”

But wasn’t this sorted out before Djokovic got on the plane?

Djokovic clearly thought so, as did Tennis Australia.

Djokovic, who has refused to reveal his Covid vaccination status, said on Tuesday that he had secured a medical exemption.

Tennis Australia and the Victorian government confirmed the exemption had been issued after a two-step process, seemingly clearing the way for him to compete in the Australian Open starting 17 January.

What is a medical exemption?

In December Tennis Australia released its Covid-19 vaccination policy for Melbourne’s grand slam, which included a process for players seeking medical exemptions to enter Victoria without having to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

If an exemption is deemed valid in line with the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) guidelines, the medical exemption will be submitted to the Australian Immunisation Register for a decision. As the panel is blind, no panellists will ever know the identity of any player seeking an exemption.

Criteria listed by Atagi as acceptable reasons for a medical exemption range from acute major medical conditions to any serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

For those who have recently tested positive for Covid-19, vaccination can also be deferred until six months after infection. The reason for Djokovic’s exemption is unclear.

Why did Djokovic apply?

We do not know the details of Djokovic’s application and he has not made his vaccination status public. All medical information provided as part of the review process is confidential.

However, Djokovic previously confirmed he tested positive to Covid in May 2020.

So what was the problem with his visa?

It’s complicated and some of the detail is still coming out, but it seems border force were not on board with the Victorian government’s process.

Although we don’t know the basis for Djokovic’s medical exemption application, Guardian Australia understands that Tennis Australia was told in writing more than once that a recent Covid infection is not an acceptable reason not to be fully vaccinated if you want quarantine-free entry into Australia.

Atagi did not endorse the process that the Victorian Government or Tennis Australia put in place, Guardian Australia has been told. A travel exemption from the border force was not requested and the commonwealth was not engaged.

So even though Djokovic had a medical exemption, the actual visa application was a matter for the federal government. This meant the decision fell to home affairs minister Karen Andrews or prime minister Scott Morrison.

“There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever,” Morrison had said.

The border force said that when he landed Djokovic apparently did not hold the correct visa to enter the country.

Has anyone else applied for an exemption?

On Wednesday, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said 26 players and staff had applied for medical exemptions but only a “handful” had been granted.

It’s been reported that three other players with the same type of visa and exemption were allowed into the country.

What has Djokovic said about vaccination?

While he has not made his vaccination status known, Djokovic said in April 2020 he is “opposed to vaccination”.

“Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” he said. “But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.

“I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know.”

What happens now?

Novak Djokovic has been moved from a room at the airport to a hotel in Melbourne run by immigration department.

His support staff, including coach Goran Ivanišević, who were travelling with him were allowed in without any problems.

Djokovic has instructed his lawyers to appeal against the visa decision. If they fail he is set to be flying out of Australia later tonight.

What has been the political reaction?

Djokovic, who is no stranger to controversy and bad behaviour, has become something of a flashpoint among the Australian public over the sense that different sets of rules apply to powerful or famous people.

Sensing the public mood, the government has seized the opportunity to talk tough.

Despite previously saying it was a matter for the Victorian government, Scott Morrison was quick to claim credit for the decision on Twitter:

At a press conference on Thursday, Morrison also said it was the obligation of the traveller to provide the correct information when they arrived at the border.

The president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, said he had spoken to the country’s star player.

“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately.

“In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice.”

The episode recalls other dramatic confrontations between visiting celebrities and Australia’s border control regime.

In 2015 Barnaby Joyce, then agricultural minister, gave Johnny Depp 50 hours to remove his dogs, Pistol and Boo, from Australia or warned they would be put down. The Hollywood star had brought them into the country on a private jet while filming on the Gold Coast. Barnaby Joyce went on to threaten the actor with a perjury investigation for smuggling the dogs into the country.

In 2014, when he was still immigration minister, Morrison also used his authority to revoke the visa of pick up artist Julien Blanc after a public outcry during his attempt to tour Australia.

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