Two days before the start of the Australian Open, the world tennis number one, Novak Djokovic, returned to a Melbourne detention center while the justice examines his deportation for not being vaccinated against covid.
The 34-year-old Serb is back at the notorious migrant detention center where he was held for five days last week, until his lawyers managed to reverse a first expulsion from the country.
The Australian government canceled his visa for the second time on Friday, but did not proceed with his immediate expulsion pending the court’s ruling on the appeal filed by the player’s lawyers.
The case is in the hands of a federal court, after the Melbourne judge to whom the tennis player’s lawyers appealed declared himself incompetent. This change can slow down the procedure, estimated his defense.
According to the documentation presented to the court, the authorities of the oceanic country argue that the presence of Djokovic “can encourage anti-vaccine sentiment” and cause “social unrest”, reasons why they request his expulsion.
The court held a hearing this Saturday, which Djokovic followed electronically, and another is scheduled for Sunday, just one day before Djokovic’s supposed debut at Melbourne Park against his compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic.
After the session, a convoy of vehicles moved from the tennis player’s law office, where he was guarded by agents, to the old Park Hotel converted into a migrant center.
The case may have long-term repercussions for the world number one, who risks being banned from Australia for three years.
That would be a serious setback for “Nole”, who is aiming to win his 10th title in Melbourne and his 21st victory in a Grand Slam, beating the absolute record that he now shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
– Protect Australia’s sacrifices –
The sporting interest of the first Grand Slam of the year was overshadowed by the judicial saga of Djokovic, who has become one of the world leaders in anti-vaccines.
10 days ago, “Nole” traveled to Australia after having obtained a vaccination exemption from the tournament organizers for having tested positive for covid-19 in mid-December.
However, upon his arrival in the country, the border authorities did not consider that a recent infection warranted an exception, they annulled his visa and sent him to the old Park Hotel.
The tennis player was locked up there until Monday, when his lawyers got an Australian judge to release him for a procedural error during his interrogation at Melbourne airport.
But on Friday, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his executive power to rescind Djokovic’s visa, citing “public health and order” reasons.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic and they hope, not surprisingly, that the outcome of these sacrifices will be protected,” Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended, under pressure four months from a general election.
After almost two years exposed to one of the most restrictive border closures in the world to stop the spread of covid-19, Australians were furious to learn of the medical exemption granted to the Serbian tennis player.
“The case will define how tourists, foreign visitors and Australian citizens view immigration policies and ‘equality under the law’ for years to come,” said Shanzhan Guo, a law professor at Flinders University.
– “Why do they mistreat you?” –
His lawyers argue that the government has not shown “any evidence” of the threat that Djokovic supposedly represents for Australians and they try to keep him free until the resolution of the case.
In Serbia, the saga has become a national issue. “Why are they mistreating him, why are they attacking him, not only him but also his family and the whole nation?” President Aleksandar Vucic said.
Djokovic this week admitted “mistakes” in all the controversy, such as including false information in his travel declaration given to the Australian authorities or having met with a journalist after having tested positive for covid-19.
The case generates boredom among tennis players. “Tired” of talking about it, the Spaniard Rafael Nadal said that “the Australian Open is much more important than any player.”
“If he ends up playing, fine. And if he doesn’t end up playing, that’s what it is. (…) It will be a great Australian Open with or without him,” he insisted.
For its part, the current women’s champion, the Japanese Naomi Osaka, considered that it is an “unfortunate situation”. “He is a great player and it is sad that people can remember him in this way,” he said.