By Sudipto Ganguly and Sonali Paul
MELBOURNE, Jan 16 (Reuters) – World tennis number one Novak Djokovic boarded a plane to leave Australia on Sunday after the Federal Court upheld the government’s decision to cancel his visa, because his decision not to getting vaccinated against COVID-19 represented a risk for the country.
The unanimous ruling by three judges dealt a final blow to the Serb’s hopes of chasing a record 21 Grand Slam wins at the Australian Open after intense days.
The tennis player boarded an Emirates flight from Melbourne to Dubai on Sunday night within hours of the ruling, a Reuters witness said. The flight was due to take off at 10:30 p.m. local time (1130 GMT).
The flight capped a journey that began when Djokovic was first detained by immigration authorities on Jan. 6, a court ordered his release on Jan. 10, and then re-arrested on Saturday.
Djokovic said after the decision that he was extremely disappointed because it meant he could not participate in the tournament, which officially starts on Monday.
“I respect the ruling of the Court and will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he said in a statement, also wishing the best for the tournament.
Djokovic, 34, had appealed against Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s discretionary use of powers to cancel his visa. The official had said the Serb could be a threat to public order because his presence would stoke anti-vaccination sentiment amid Australia’s worst outbreak of the virus.
Federal Court Chief Justice James Allsop said the ruling was based on the legality of the minister’s decision in the context of the three grounds of appeal filed by Djokovic’s legal team.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly, Ian Ransom in Melbourne and John Mair and Renju Jose in Sydney, Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Editing in Spanish by Manuel Farías)