Tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic has started legal action to overturn a decision to deport him from Australia following the cancellation of his visa.
Lawyers for the nine-time Australian Open champion fronted the Federal Court in Melbourne on Thursday, applying for a judicial review of the visa cancellation decision by Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews.
Djokovic remains locked in a quarantine hotel as he tries to keep alive his quest for a record 21st grand slam title at Melbourne Park later this month.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed that Djokovic had tried to enter the country without a medical exemption from vaccination.
The Serbian superstar claimed he had such an exemption, but it appears this was only granted for the tournament and not entry into Australia.
Morrison said entry to Australia required double vaccination or a medical exemption, which Djokovic did not have, and that “rules are rules”.
“People must be fully vaccinated as defined by ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) to gain quarantine-free entry into Australia,” he said on Thursday.
“That means people who do not meet the definition will not be approved for quarantine-free entry.
“I am advised that such an exemption was not in place and as a result he is subject to the same rule as anyone else.”
Two-time Open quarter-finalist and outspoken anti-vaxxer Tennys Sandgren said the treatment of the world’s top male player meant Australia didn’t deserve to host a grand slam.
The American himself didn’t enter this year’s tournament, saying he didn’t meet grounds for an exemption.
“Just to be crystal clear here. 2 separate medical boards approved his exemption. And politicians are stopping it. Australia doesn’t deserve to host a grand slam,” Sandgren tweeted.
Following the border force decision it emerged Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley was repeatedly warned that a recent COVID-19 infection wasn’t grounds for a medical exemption for unvaccinated players.
It’s been revealed that the Department of Health sent Tiley two letters in November stipulating that a COVID infection in the past six months would not satisfy entry requirements for unvaccinated players.
It’s believed the world No.1 men’s player applied for an exemption on those grounds.
Health Minister Greg Hunt reiterated advice in a letter in late November.
“I can confirm that people who have contracted COVID-19 within the past six months and seek to enter Australia from overseas, and have not received two doses of a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)- approved or TGA-recognised vaccine (or one dose of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine) are not considered fully vaccinated,” Hunt wrote.
The move by the Australian government threatened to cause a diplomatic incident between Canberra and Belgrade.
“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately,” Serbia president Aleksandar Vucic posted on Instagram.
“In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice.”
TA is expected to make a statement later on Thursday but faced public outrage over the tournament exemption.
Rod Laver urged Djokovic to tell the public his medical reasoning, fearing repercussions on the court named after him at Melbourne Park.
“I think it might get ugly … if he’s got a reason for (the exemption) then … we should know it,” Laver said.
Australia’s women’s world No.1 Ash Barty said she understood the frustration in the community at the exemption decision.
“It’s a tough one. As we’ve seen a little bit in the last day or so, from the Australian public, I know how hard it has been for Australians … but in particular Victorians have had a real rough trot over the last 18 months and two years.”
In soap-opera scenes, Djokovic’s father Srdjan first shed light on the extraordinary situation when he told Serbian B92 internet portal: “Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter. In front of the room are two policemen.”
Djokovic had jetted into Tullamarine Airport late Wednesday night after a 14-hour flight from Dubai.
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