Tennis Superstar Novak Djokovic Has Been Denied Entry to Australia
BRISBANE, Australia — Novak Djokovic’s chance to play for a 10th Australian Open title was thrown into limbo Thursday when the country denied him entry and canceled his visa because he failed to meet the requirements for an exemption to COVID-19 vaccination rules.
The top-ranked Djokovic announced on social media Tuesday that he had “exemption permission” and landed in Australia late Wednesday after receiving a medical exemption from the Victoria state government that was expected to shield him from the strict vaccination regulations in place for this year’s first major tennis tournament.
The exemption was not accepted by border authorities. Djokovic did not meet the entry requirements, as stated by the Australian Border Force.
“The rule is very clear,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a news conference Thursday. “You need to have a medical exemption. He didn’t have a valid medical exemption. We make the call at the border, and that’s where it’s enforced.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the visa cancellation followed a review of Djokovic’s medical exemption by border officials who looked “at the integrity and the evidence behind it.”
He said Djokovic was free to appeal the decision, “but if a visa is canceled, somebody will have to leave the country.”
The president of Djokovic’s native Serbia blasted the “harassment” of the star, who was detained overnight at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. For the announcement of his entry into Australia, Djokovic, a 20-time major champion, had to sit at the airport for more than 8 hours. He was then moved to a hotel while he waited for arrangements for his flight out of Australia.
Morrison confirmed the cancellation in a Twitter post: “No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.”
Morrison later responded to queries about the confusion surrounding federal and state requirements. He said that it was up each individual traveler to ensure they have proper documentation upon arrival.
Although Djokovic wasn’t mentioned by the Prime Minister, he did acknowledge that Djokovic may be the one being singled out.
“One of the things the Border Force does is they act on intelligence to direct their attention to potential arrivals,” he said. “When you get people making public statements about what they say they have, and they’re going to do, they draw significant attention to themselves.”
Anyone who does that “whether they’re a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player . . . they can expect to be asked questions more than others before you come.”
These medical exemptions were vetted and approved by two separate panels of specialists. They are based on anonymized information from players.
He is a vocal opponent of vaccines, and he refuses to say whether or not he was given shots against the coronavirus.
His father, Srdjan Djokovic, told the B92 internet portal that his son was held at the airport “in a room which no one can enter” and guarded by two police officers.
Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s President, posted on Instagram that Djokovic spoke with him while Djokovic was at the airport. He said Serbian authorities were taking measures “so the harassment of the best tennis player in the world be stopped in the shortest possible time.”
Djokovic’s revelation on social media that he was heading to Australia to seeking a record 21st major title instantly became a hot political topic, with many Australians furious that he was granted an exemption to enter the country. Critics asked what ground Djokovic could use to get the exemption. But backers said that he had the right to privacy, freedom and choice.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the “completely legitimate application and process” and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic.
Victoria has placed a ban on officials, players, and staff from the state to enter Melbourne Park during January 17.
Only 26 people connected with the tournament applied for a medical exemption and, Tiley said, only a “handful” were granted. No one has been able to identify any of the players.
One exception is for serious medical conditions and severe adverse reactions to previous COVID-19 vaccinations.
Djokovic, who played in exhibition matches he organised in Serbia and Croatia during the pandemic without social distancing, was positive for coronavirus.
Concerns about Djokovic’s visa status started building Wednesday.
Morrison originally stated that Morrison’s medical exemption decision was for Victoria. Melbourne is the capital of the state.
Karen Andrews from the Home Affairs Ministry clarified the border process.
“While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border,” Andrews said. “If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travelers.”
When asked again about Djokovic’s case later Wednesday, Morrison added: “If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else, and he’ll be on the next plane home.”
—This report was contributed by Dusan Stojanovic, Associated Press writer, Belgrade, Serbia