© Reuters. Police watch pro-refugee protesters gather in front of the Park Hotel, where Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic is believed to have been detained while in Melbourne, Australia, on January 10, 2022. REUTERS / Sandra Sanders
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A judge who heard Novak Djokovic’s legal challenge to the Australian government’s decision to revoke the tennis star’s entry visa on Monday raised several concerns about how border officials treated the Serb upon arrival.
Judge Anthony Kelly said Djokovic appears to have received the necessary medical exemption before traveling to Australia, and presented evidence of that upon arrival at Melbourne Airport on Wednesday night.
“The point I’m a little upset about is what more could this man have done?” Kelly said as Djokovic’s lawyers presented their case challenging the federal government’s decision to revoke the player’s visa at the airport.
Djokovic, who has been in an immigration detention hotel since his visa was revoked, claims the recent COVID-19 infection qualified him for a medical exemption from Australia’s requirement that all visitors be vaccinated twice.
The Australian government, however, said that non-citizens do not have the right to guaranteed entry into Australia and emphasized that even if a Serb wins a lawsuit, he reserves the right to be re-detained and removed from the country.
The government’s decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa potentially deprives him of a chance to win a record 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, which begins in Melbourne on January 17th.
Exchanges between Kelly and Djokovic’s lawyer Nicholas Wood also revealed that officials forced the world’s number one to turn off his phone from midnight to around 7:42 a.m. local time, when a decision was made to revoke his visa. Officials refused to agree to give him until 8.30am to talk to tournament organizer Tennis Australia, Wood said and dissuaded him from waiting to talk to lawyers.
Wood said Djokovic made it clear that he had medical contraindications that exempted him from the double vaccination obligation and, although he was not required to, provided evidence to support that claim both before boarding the flight to Australia and upon arrival.
Technical problems that delayed the start of the virtual hearing at the Federal District and Family Court also occasionally affected the planned live broadcast of the session to the public.
Instead of training for the Australian Open, Djokovic has been locked up in a hotel used by asylum seekers since Thursday.
A handful of supporters, one carrying a Serbian flag, gathered in front of the hotel Monday morning, along with several other activists protesting the detention of refugees held there for months.
Crowds of Djokovic’s supporters gathered in front of the hotel over the weekend, dancing to traditional music and cheering.
The French newspaper L’Equipe published a photo of Djokovic taken when the diary was declared the champion in the days after he said in a court submission that he was positive for coronavirus, on December 16. Other photos posted on social media show him appearing at positions in Serbia on dates shortly after the test.
It was unclear whether Djokovic knew of his positive test at the time of the events depicted in the pictures.
Djokovic, 34, has won the Australian Open nine times, and the drama surrounding his denied entry has sparked a storm in sports circles, sparked tensions between Serbia and Australia and become a hotbed of opponents of vaccine mandates around the world.
Djokovic’s father addressed a small protest in front of the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade on Sunday.
“Are we animals? What are we? We are human beings. This is happening because we are only a small part of the world, but we are proud. They do not respect it.”
Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said in his first media interview since the furore began that his organization had been in talks with federal and state officials for months to ensure the safe passage of players.
Czech player Renata Voracova, who was detained in the same detention hotel as Djokovic and whose visa was revoked after problems with the vaccine exemption, left the country without challenging her status, the Czech Foreign Ministry said.