Novak Djokovic’s Visa Is Canceled Again by Australia
Djokovic’s lawyers said they would appeal the decision. The tennis star could be detained again on Saturday, with the Australian Open starting on Monday.
Novak Djokovic practicing on Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday.Credit…Mark Baker/Associated Press
Novak Djokovic, the Serbian tennis star, had his visa revoked for a second time by the Australian authorities on Friday and was set to be detained again on Saturday,the latest dizzying volley in a drawn-out drama over his refusal to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, said in a statement that he was canceling Djokovic’s visa on the grounds of “health and good order,” adding that it was in the public interest to do so. Djokovic’s lawyers said they would file an appeal immediately, with the Australian Open starting on Monday and his ability to compete for a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title increasingly in jeopardy.
Hawke took the action fourdaysafter Djokovic won a legal victory that freed him from immigration detention, where he had been held since arriving at a Melbourne airport last week.
Explaining his decision to revoke the visa, the minister said that the Australian government was committed to protecting the country’s borders during the pandemic.
Djokovic’s lawyers said at a circuit court hearing on Friday night that they would challenge the decision, and a judge ordered the government not to deport him while the appeal was being heard.
After that hearing, the case was transferred to a different judge, David O’Callaghan of the Federal Court of Australia. He will preside over a new hearing at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday.
Legal experts said Djokovic might have little chance of having the decision overturned, despite winning his first round in court earlier this week on narrow procedural grounds.
Mary Crock, a law professor at the University of Sydney, said it would be “very, very hard” for Djokovic to win any appeal. “The rules of natural justice and procedure don’t apply,” she said. So the only way he might succeed in an appeal would be to prove there is no public-interest basis on which the visa could have been canceled.
A federal investigation led by Hawke had revealed that Djokovic provided false information on the documents he gave to border officials when he tried to enter Australia last week.
Those documents failed to state that Djokovic, who lives in Monte Carlo, had traveled between Serbia and Spain during the 14 days ahead of his arrival in Australia.
In a post on social media on Wednesday, Djokovic acknowledged the misstatements and addressed questions about his movements in the days before and after his positive test for the coronavirus on Dec. 16. That test result had allowed him to gain an exemption from state health officials in Victoria to play in the Australian Open, where he is the defending champion, despite being unvaccinated.
“I just want to have the opportunity to compete against the best players in the world and perform before one of the best crowds in the world,” Djokovic said in the post.
Djokovic arrived in Australia late on Jan. 5, but hours later, and after an airport interview, border officials canceled his visa, saying he remained subject to a requirement that everyone entering the country be fully vaccinated. He spent five days at a hotel for refugees and asylum seekers, until a judge on Monday found that he had been treated unfairly, and ordered Djokovic released with his visa restored.
The court ruling did not put an end to the case, but rather shifted its focus to Djokovic’s supporting documents, the legitimacy of his coronavirus test and basic questions about what Djokovic knew about his diagnosis and when he knew it.
Legally, Hawke, the immigration minister, can cancel a visa on character grounds or if he finds records to be false, or if he believes the visa’s recipient poses a health or safety risk. Hawke made his decision as Australia is in the midst of its worst bout with the coronavirus.
Mike Ives and Matthew Futterman contributed reporting.
Hours after Australia’s immigration minister canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa, the tennis star’s lawyers were back in court on Friday to challenge the decision. They appeared via videoconference, along with a lawyer representing the Australian government, before Judge Anthony Kelly of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.
Here are highlights of the hearing:
Djokovic’s lawyers said they would file an appeal by Friday night. One of their main arguments was that the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, did not act rationally when he said that Djokovic’s refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 posed a public health risk and could “excite anti-vaccination sentiment” in Australia. Nicholas Wood, one of Djokovic’s lawyers, said the minister did not take into account the impact of forcing the player out of the country.
Djokovic will most likely be taken back into immigration detention on Saturday.While the government’s lawyer, Stephen Lloyd, agreed that he could stay at his residence in Melbourne on Friday night, Djokovic was scheduled to be interviewed by immigration officials at 8 a.m. on Saturday, and then would be escorted by border officers to his lawyers’ office. The judge said that Djokovic would be detained or interviewed at a location agreed to by the government and his lawyers. And he ordered the government not to deport Djokovic while his appeal is being heard.
Djokovic’s lawyers asked for a speedy schedule so that he could potentially be cleared to play his first-round Australian Open match, which tournament officials confirmed late Friday night would take place on Monday. The lawyers criticized the immigration minister for taking four days since an earlier court ruling to decide to rescind the visa, and for announcing it at 6 p.m. on Friday. “We are where we are because of the time the minister has taken,” Wood said. “We are moving as fast as we can.”
Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, defended his immigration minister’s decision to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa again on Friday, saying that strong border protections have kept Australians safe.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said in a statement. “This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today.”
Djokovic is expected to appeal the decision, and Morrison said he would not comment further because of “expected ongoing legal proceedings.”
When Morrison explained last week why his government had barred Djokovic from entering the country, he described it as “simply a matter of following the rules” requiring coronavirus vaccinations for incoming travelers.
“People are put on planes and turned back all the time,” he said.
But Djokovic, who had a visa to travel to Australia and a vaccination exemption to compete in the Australian Open, collided not just with the country’s tough border restrictions after arriving at a Melbourne airport. He also found himself at the center of a highly charged moment in Australia’s fight against the coronavirus.
With an election on the horizon, a sharp shift in pandemic strategy — from “Covid-zero” to “living with the virus” — has put Morrison’s government under intense pressure. Cases have surged to once unimaginable heights, pushing the country’s testing system to the limit and raising anxiety among a population that has already endured long lockdowns.
After nearly two years of suppressing the virus, the Australian authorities began to change tack late last year as vaccination rates reached ambitious thresholds. Harsh restrictions that once kept people from traveling between states or to other countries, or from even leaving their homes, have been replaced by adages about “personal responsibility.”
Still, shortages of rapid antigen tests have left pharmacy and supermarket shelves bare, and there are concerns about hospital capacity amid reports that some coronavirus-positive nurses have been called back to work because of staffing gaps.
All of that has left little sympathy in Australia for Djokovic, who has been dismissive toward the pandemic and emerged as professional tennis’s most prominent vaccine skeptic.
That is particularly true in Melbourne, where the Australian Open is held, and where residents have endured a total of 256 days of lockdown, in part to spare the rest of Australia from outbreaks. Unvaccinated Melburnians are still barred from some activities, and those wishing to attend the Australian Open must be vaccinated.
Novak Djokovic has said little publicly about why he has declined to be vaccinated against Covid, a decision at the heart of the Australian government’s decision to revoke his visa, now for a second time.
But while his views are out of step with the vast majority of people in Australia — where roughly 80 percent of the population is vaccinated — in his homeland of Serbia, skepticism of vaccination runs deep. Serbia has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe, with less than 50 percent of people having received two shots, according to the Our World in Data project at Oxford University.
Serbians can choose from a virtual vaccine bazaar, including Sinopharm from China, Sputnik from Russia and the AstraZeneca shot, developed in partnership with Britain’s Oxford University and the U.S. drug company Pfizer, which is referred to in Serbia as the American vaccine.
But as cases rise, getting vaccinated is an increasingly hard sell.
A year ago, lines at the Belgrade Fair — the main vaccine site in the capital — stretched for blocks and some 8,000 doses were being administered daily. Now medical staff are lucky if they inoculate 300 people in a day, said Dr. Milena Turubatovic, a primary care physician administering vaccine doses at the site.
A fan of Djokovic, she worried that the focus on his vaccine status was not helpful.
“I respect him highly, but do not agree with his attitude on vaccination,” she said. “And of course it has an impact.”
Over the course of the pandemic, many people in Serbia have come to view the virus as a part of life and become resistant to restrictions aimed at slowing its spread. While Serbia locked down like the rest of Europe during the first wave of infections, the suggestion of a renewed lockdown last winter was greeted with riots.
Since then, political leaders have been loath to reimpose or enforce restrictions. That was evident when President Aleksandar Vucic declined to criticize Djokovic even after the tennis star acknowledged he had failed to isolate after testing positive in December and made errors on a travel form submitted to the Australian authorities.
Though Djokovic’s stance may have hurt the government’s vaccination campaign, the president has continued to support him, protesting his detention in Australia and calling that country’s decision to keep him from playing “overkill.”
“When you can’t defeat someone on the court, then you do such things,” he said.
“Limbo,” the former Australian Open tournament director Paul McNamee had said this week, “is the worst scenario for the tournament.”
Yet for days, the uncertainty of Novak Djokovic’s status had hung over the event. The decision on Friday to cancel his visa for the second time could yield some clarity. His plan to appeal that ruling will only extend it.
But coming when it did, a day after Djokovic was placed in the No. 1 spot in the men’s draw, the cancellation of his visa — if it is upheld — could force a reshuffling of the men’s bracket.
If Djokovic were to be kicked out of Australia, the draw for the men’s singles tournament would have to be reconfigured. According to Grand Slam rules, the No. 5 seed, Andrey Rublev, would move into Djokovic’s vacant slot in the draw. Rublev’s place at No. 5 would then be filled by another seed as part of a series of cascading changes.
But if Djokovic appeals and delays his departure, or if his withdrawal were to come after the order of play for opening day has been released, his place would be taken by a so-called lucky loser: a player who had lost in the qualifying tournament and then been drawn by lot to receive a newly open spot.
And instead of having Djokovic as the favorite to win his record 10th title, and 21st Grand Slam singles championship over all, the focus would shift to three of his most likely rivals for the trophy: the U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev; the Olympic champion Alexander Zverev; and the 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal.
None of it, of course, is ideal for the Open.
“If Novak was going to be kicked out,” McNamee said, “the time to do it was before the draw.”
Didn’t an Australian judge rule that Novak Djokovic could stay in the country? Yes. But it did not exactly guarantee that he wouldn’t still be deported.
The judge who ordered the Serbian tennis star’s release from immigration detention on Monday found that he had been treated unfairly after his arrival at a Melbourne airport for the Australian Open. After detaining Djokovic, the border authorities promised to let him speak with tournament organizers and his lawyers early on Jan. 6, only to cancel his visa before he was given a chance.
The judge, Anthony Kelly, ruled that was unfair, and he ordered both Djokovic’s release and the reinstatement of his visa. (In effect, the judge had ruled on the process, not the underlying evidence on which Djokovic had obtained his visa and his medical exemption to compete.)
Within hours, Djokovic’s family had held a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, hailing the ruling, and Djokovic had posted a photo from his first practice session ahead of the Australian Open.
On Thursday evening, Djokovic was named the top seed in the men’s draw, and set to face compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.
But on Friday morning, the immigration minister used his authority to cancel the visa. The cancellation of Djokovic’s visa could also lead to an automatic three-year ban on his entering the country, although in a statement on Friday, the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, made no mention of that penalty.
The furor over Novak Djokovic’s immigration fight has thoroughly overshadowed the tennis being played this week before the Australian Open, and Andy Murray, one of Djokovic’s longtime rivals, weighed in minutes after reaching the singles final of the Sydney International.
“I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak whilst he’s down,” said Murray, a former world No. 1. “I said it the other day — it’s not a good situation for anyone.”
Murray, like many players and fans, was unclear on what might come next; after his visa was canceled a second time, Djokovic’s lawyers were soon back in court for a hearing on Friday night.
But Murray said he was eager for the situation to be resolved.
“I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case,” he said. “It just seems like it’s dragged on for quite a long time now and yeah — not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak. Obviously, a lot of people have criticized the government here as well. It’s not been good.”
Murray said he would encourage people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and also believed they should be allowed to have the choice to decline the shot, as Djokovic has.
“But there are also consequences sometimes for those decisions,” Murray said. “The lady who gave me my third jab, she works in the hospital in Central London, and she told me that every single person that is in the I.C.U. and on ventilators are all people that are unvaccinated. So to me, it makes sense for people to go ahead and have it done.
“Yes, most young, sort-of-healthy athletes are probably going to be O.K., but yeah, we’ve all got to play our part in this one, I think.”
At the Open’s qualifying tournament at Melbourne Park, crowds have been sparse this year, but the drama around Djokovic’s presence in the country was on nearly everyone’s mind on Friday.
“I love my tennis, but I think this is irrespective of tennis to be honest,” said Tom Rundle, a 58-year-old from Adelaide wearing a broad-brimmed hat. “This is a bigger issue. Everyone needs to follow the rules, and the government has been quite firm on it from six months ago really about being vaccinated. I don’t think this is us doing the wrong thing by Novak; it’s about following the rules, unfortunately.”
Petr Tretinik, a 37-year-old Melbourne resident from Slovakia, said that he had long followed Djokovic’s career closely and had returned to the Australian Open this year hoping to watch him again.
“This is his tournament, and I think it’s a big loss for the Australian Open,” Tretinik said, standing next to Rod Laver Arena, where Djokovic won his nine previous Australian Open singles titles. “His face is everywhere here at the tournament and if you just walk around in the city and take the trams.
“But it is what it is. At some stage I think it’s becoming again like vaccinated against the nonvaccinated, and if Novak plays the tournament it will then be like a big win for antivaxxers. It’s a tricky situation.”
Roger Rasheed, an Australian who has coached several leading players, including the former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, said Djokovic should accept the second cancellation of his visa, rather than trying to contest the government’s decision. A hearing related to his appeal is scheduled for Saturday morning.
“I think there’s a time when you’ve got to do what’s right for the greater good and what’s right for the sport and your peers,” Rasheed said. “And actually step away and say, ‘I’ll come back another year and do this again.’ The circumstances are unfortunate, but it’s a very volatile climate.”
BELGRADE, Serbia — The first time the Australian government revoked Novak Djokovic’s visa, his family was joined by leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the nation’s president in public expressions of outrage at the treatment of a national hero.
But after a week of boisterous rallies, government statements condemning Australia’s handling of the case and debate over the tennis star’s refusal to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, Australia’s decision on Friday to revoke Djokovic’s visa for a second time was met mostly with silence in his home country.
The news arrived early on Friday morning in Serbia as much of the nation was waking up bleary-eyed from celebrating the Serbian New Year.
The extended holiday is a consequence of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s continued adherence to the old Julian calendar, which lags 13 days behind the predominantly used Gregorian calendar.
Just as this country charts its own course in tracking time, it also has taken a different route than most of Europe in its approach to the virus. Even the suggestion of a new restrictions on movement last winter sparked riots and the kind of lockdown millions in Australia have had to endure is unthinkable.
So people have watched the unfolding saga in Australia with a mixture of anger, bewilderment and resentment.
The nation’s tabloids were apoplectic on Friday, calling it the greatest sporting scandal of the century. But official reaction was purposely muted. With the Australian government indicating that allowing Djokovic to remain in the country could embolden anti-vaccine sentiment, officials in Serbia appear reluctant to further roil the waters as the case heads for a last-ditch appeal.
The Djokovic family did not make any public statements on Friday. But earlier in the week, they made their views clear.
“He fought for freedom of thought, freedom of speech,” said his father, Srdjan. “The fact he comes from small and impoverished country was not something big, powerful people liked. They thought they had God-given powers that this world is their world, and it is impossible that a young man from a small, poor country can be the best in their sport.”
As the controversy played out, his family could often be found at their restaurant in Belgrade, “Novak,” a shrine to their son’s achievements. They often gather in a private trophy room surrounded by nearly every silver chalice the 34-year-old has won over the course of a storied career.
Friday’s decision — at least for the moment — made it less likely that he would add a 10th Australian Open title to the collection this year.
Novak Djokovic’s ordeal in Australia may presage other battles ahead as the attitudes of sporting bodies, health authorities and public opinion harden toward the non-vaccinated, even if they are glittering global sports stars.
While it is highly unlikely Djokovic, an outspoken vaccine skeptic, will find himself sequestered again in any other country over visa issues, his trouble in Melbourne is an indication of some of the resistance or obstacles he could face in the months ahead if he continues to attempt to travel the world without being vaccinated for Covid-19.
Governments are running out of forbearance, instituting or debating vaccine mandates, and some tennis officials are running out of patience, too. And the pace and direction of the coronavirus pandemic and its variants is unknown.
The next major events on the men’s tour after the Australian Open are the Masters 1000 events in March in Indian Wells, Calif., and Miami. But the United States now requires that visitors be fully vaccinated to travel to the country by plane unless they are U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents or traveling on a U.S. immigrant visa. Only limited exceptions apply, and it is unclear whether Djokovic would qualify for one or would even want to try to qualify for one after the Australian imbroglio.
The French Open, the year’s next Grand Slam tournament, begins in May and appears less problematic for him. Roxana Maracineanu, the French sports minister, told French national radio last week that she expected that Djokovic would be allowed to enter the country and compete if unvaccinated because of the health protocols that are planned for major international sporting events in France.
But in the same interview, Maracineanu emphasized that any athlete, French or foreign, who was a resident in France would be required to show proof of vaccination to have access to sports training facilities.
Some professional leagues have left loopholes in place, but they are also plugging gaps. Djokovic, who has long held nontraditional views on science, finds himself in the distinct minority, with more than 90 percent of the top 100 players on the ATP Tour now vaccinated.
In 2022, the tour will not require vaccinated players to take more than an initial test once they arrive at a tournament unless they develop symptoms. Unvaccinated players and team members will have to be tested regularly.
While Djokovic won in court on Monday, he has undoubtedly lost support in the court of public opinion. The backlash against him in Australia was amplified by his willful refusal for months to clarify his plans for the Open.
The pitched battle in Australia highlighted a new dynamic: Athletes once viewed favorably as iconoclasts are now encountering pushback when they want to play by different rules than everyone else.
Novak Djokovic, the top player in men’s tennis and its leading vaccine skeptic, has had his visa canceled for the second time by the government of Australia, where he had arrived last week hoping to defend his Australian Open title.
Here’s a look at how the standoff has unfolded:
A surprise exemption gave Djokovic an apparent chance to avoid Australia’s tough vaccination rules.
Djokovic has won the last three Australian Open men’s singles championships, and a record nine in his career. But he has received scrutiny for his unscientific beliefs, including his support for a claim that positive emotions can purify toxic water or food, and he has shunned the coronavirus vaccine.
Last year, the Australian Open announced that participants in this month’s tournament would have to be fully vaccinated, in line with requirements for entering the country. Djokovic’s participation was seen as unlikely until he announced Jan. 4 that he would play after receiving an exemption. It was later learned that his exemption was based on a recent coronavirus infection.
The federal government stopped Djokovic at the border.
Djokovic was stopped at the airport in Melbourne late on Jan. 5 after flying from Spain via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He was questioned for hours at the airport before being sent to a quarantine hotel.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, who has faced criticism over the government’s Covid-19 response, announced that Djokovic’s entry had been denied because he was unvaccinated. Federal officials said that a previous coronavirus infection was not valid grounds for the vaccination exemption granted by Australian tennis officials and local authorities in Victoria, the state where the tournament is held.
Djokovic, who was taken to a quarantine hotel pending his departure, immediately filed a legal appeal.
Djokovic won an appeal, but questions soon arose.
On Monday, after Djokovic had spent five days at a hotel for refugees and asylum seekers, a judge ruled that he had been treated unfairly at the airport, denied a promised chance to contact his lawyers or Australian Open officials, and reinstated his visa.
But documents released as part of the legal proceedings raised questions about Djokovic’s actions.
Records showed that he took a coronavirus test at 1:05 p.m. on Dec. 16 in Belgrade, Serbia, and received the positive result seven hours later. But social media posts showed that he had attended two public events on the day he sought his test, and also a tennis event a day later in Belgrade, where he presented awards to children. And Franck Ramella, a reporter with the French sports newspaper L’Equipe, wrote this week that when he conducted an interview with Djokovic on Dec. 18, he did not know that the athlete had just tested positive.
Questions also arose over whether Djokovic had made a false statement on his entry form to Australia when he said that he had not traveled internationally in the 14 days before his flight from Spain. Social media posts showed him in Serbia on Christmas Day.
Djokovic acknowledged mistakes.
In a statement on Wednesday, Djokovic said he was not yet aware that he had tested positive when he attended the children’s event, and acknowledged that he had made a poor decision not to cancel the interview with the French journalist. He said that a member of his support team had made a “human error” when filling out his paperwork.
But the statement, which read as both a late request for leniency and an explanation for irresponsible behavior, may have come too late. By then, Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, was already giving serious consideration to using his powers to cancel the visa for the second time.
Australia, a proud “sporting nation,” hemmed and hawed about Novak Djokovic for more than a week. Australians didn’t much like how their government had summarily canceled his visa at the airport. After all their lockdown obedience and vaccine drives, they were also unhappy about the celebrity athlete’s effort to glide into the country while skirting a Covid vaccination mandate.
But then came a stretch of extraordinary revelations that all but erased any popular ambivalence. Djokovic admitted that he had not isolated himself last month while he apparently suspected, and later confirmed, a Covid infection. And he blamed his agent for a false statement on an immigration document that warned of harsh penalties for any errors.
With that, Australia’s leaders decided they had seen enough. In the final tally, a country far from the epicenters of Covid suffering, where sport is a revered forum for right and wrong, has become an enforcer of the collectivist values that the entire world has been struggling to maintain during the pandemic.
Many Australians saw in Djokovic’s actions both dishonesty and a disregard for others. Some questioned whether he had really tested positive in the first place, given the convenient timing for his vaccination exemption. They could almost smell the arrogance in his behavior, and they found it rank, especially at this stage of the pandemic.
“He has a way of rubbing the Australian public the wrong way,” said Damien Saunder, 44, a cartographer who is the president of a tennis club near Melbourne. “No disrespect for him or his tennis ability and that, but there’s something about him that just doesn’t quite sit with the Australian public.”