© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 13, 2021 Serbian Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning the third round match against Taylor Fritz from the USA REUTERS / Loren Elliott
Authors Courtney Walsh and John Mair
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – World number one Novak Djokovic was denied entry to Australia on Thursday amid a storm of protests over a decision to grant him a medical exemption https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/djokovic-will -defend-australian- open-title-after-exemption-vaccination-2022-01-04 from the request for vaccination against COVID-19 for playing at the Australian Open.
The tennis star was locked up in a quarantine hotel in Melbourne while his lawyers demanded an urgent ban on allowing him to stay in the country after officers detained him at the border.
The saga, fueled by domestic political scoring on how the country is coping with a record rise in new COVID-19 infections, created an international incident in which the Serbian president claimed he was harassing his star player.
“There are no special cases, the rules are the rules,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a televised press briefing. “We will continue to make the right decisions when it comes to securing Australia’s borders in relation to this pandemic.”
Djokovic, who persistently refused to reveal his vaccination status while publicly criticizing mandatory vaccinations, sparked outrage when he said on Instagram that he had received a medical exemption to achieve a record 21st victory at the Open Grand Slam tournament starting January 17th.
The announcement sparked outrage in Australia, especially in the host city of the tournament, Melbourne, which endured the longest cumulative closure in the world to prevent coronavirus.
The adult vaccination rate in Australia of around 91% is high by international standards and there is little public sympathy for those who refuse to be vaccinated, as the Omicron variant sends case numbers to record levels.
However, the Australian government’s move to block its entry has sparked disagreements between Canberra and Belgrade.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Twitter (NYSE 🙂 that he spoke with Djokovic to reassure the player “that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to end the harassment of the world’s best tennis player.”
Morrison said he was aware that the Serbian embassy in Canberra had “presented a play” and denied allegations of harassment. Morrison said it was an individual case and pointed out that Djokovic had attracted attention, which is possible by referring to his comments against the vaccination and posting it on Instagram.
Djokovic’s father told Serbian media that his son was taken into an isolation room under police guard when he landed at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne on Wednesday around 11:30 pm (12:30 GMT) after a 14-hour flight from Dubai.
A hearing in the Federal District and Family Court of Australia was adjourned for 18 hours after Judge Anthony Kelly said he had not received the paperwork from Djokovic’s lawyers.
The court reserved a full date for Monday’s hearing for the case, but government attorneys reserved the right to seek a decision to remove Djokovic from the country before the hearing.
Nick Wood, Djokovic’s lawyer, told the judge that Tennis Australia had advised them to know about his participation in the tournament by Tuesday. In response, Kelly said “the tail here won’t wave the dog.”
Djokovic’s fate is linked to the political struggle in Australia, characterized by a finger point between the Morrison Conservative administration and a left-leaning Victorian government led by Prime Minister Dan Andrews.
The dispute overshadowed the fact that Australia’s COVID-19 daily infection had reached a record high for the fourth day in a row, surpassing 72,000 with new cases, flooding hospitals and causing labor shortages.
Under the Australian federal system, states and territories can issue exemptions from vaccination requirements to enter their jurisdiction. However, the federal government controls international borders and can challenge such exemptions.
Djokovic traveled to Australia after receiving an exemption from the Victorian government. That exemption – reasons unknown to him – backed his visa issued by the federal government.
However, upon arrival, Federal Border Force officials at the airport said Djokovic was unable to justify the reasons for his exemption.
The Australian Working Group Setting Exemption Parameters cites the risk of serious heart disease from vaccination and COVID-19 infection in the last six months as qualifiers. However, Morrison said on Thursday that Tennis Australia had been informed a few weeks ago that a recent infection did not meet the eligibility criteria.
Tennis Australia and government officials said Djokovic did not receive preferential treatment, adding that he was among a “handful” of approvals in an anonymous and independent assessment of 26 applications.
The Serb has won nine titles at Melbourne Park, including the last three, but is likely to face a tough crowd if he goes out on the field next week.
“I think it could get ugly,” Australian tennis giant Rod Laver, after whom the main court is named, told News Corp. (NASDAQ :). ‘I think Victorian people would think’ Yes, I’d love to see him play and compete, but at the same time there’s a right and a wrong way. ‘
Paul McNamee, a former director of the Australian Open and a tennis professional, said Djokovic had taken the necessary steps to obtain a visa.
“He deserves his day in court, not in court, in my opinion,” McNamee told ABC TV.