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Australian judge raises concerns about Djokovic’s airport interview

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A judge who heard Novak Djokovic’s legal challenge to the Australian government’s decision to revoke the tennis player’s visa raised many concerns on Monday about the way border officials treated the Serbian player upon his arrival.

Judge Anthony Kelly said it appeared that Djokovic had received the required medical exemption before traveling to Australia and provided evidence of this upon his arrival at Melbourne airport on Wednesday evening.

“The point that I am somewhat annoyed about is what more could this man do?” Kelly said as Djokovic’s lawyers explained their case to challenge the federal government’s decision to cancel the player’s visa at the airport.

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Djokovic, who has been held in an immigrant detention hotel since his visa was revoked, argues that a recent COVID-19 infection has qualified him for medical exemption from Australia’s requirement that all visitors be vaccinated twice.

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But the Australian government said non-citizens do not have secured entry to Australia and stressed that even if the Serb wins the court case, it reserves the right to detain him again and remove him from the country.

The government’s decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa is likely to frustrate his attempts to win a record 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, which begins in Melbourne on January 17.

Exchanges between Kelly and Djokovic’s lawyer Nicholas Wood also revealed that officials made the world number one turn off his phone from midnight to about 7.42 a.m. local time, when the decision was made to cancel his visa. Wood said officials reneged on an agreement giving him until 8:30 am to speak to Tennis Australia, and discouraged him from waiting to speak to lawyers.

Wood said Djokovic had clearly stated that he had a medical contraindication that exempted him from the requirement for double vaccination, and although he was not required to, he provided evidence to support that claim before boarding his flight to Australia and upon arrival.

Technical issues that delayed the start of the virtual hearing in the Federal Circuit and Family Court also intermittently affected the planned live broadcast of the hearing to the public.

Protesters and fans

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Instead of training for the Australian Open, Djokovic has been confined to a hotel used for asylum seekers since Thursday.

A few supporters, one carrying the Serbian flag, gathered outside the hotel on Monday morning, along with a number of activists protesting the arrest of refugees who have been held there for months.

Crowds of Djokovic supporters gathered outside the hotel over the weekend, dancing to traditional music and cheering.

French newspaper L’Equipe published a photo of Djokovic taken as the champion was named in the dailies in the days following his announcement in court that he had tested positive for the coronavirus on December 16. Other photos posted on social media showed his appearance. In jobs in Serbia on dates shortly after this test.

It was not clear whether Djokovic was aware of his positive test at the time of the events in the photos.

Djokovic, 34, has won the Australian Open nine times, and the drama about his refusal to enter has caused an uproar in sporting circles, raised tensions between Serbia and Australia, and became a flashpoint for anti-vaccine mandates around the world.

‘There is no respect’

Djokovic’s father addressed a small protest in front of the Serbian Parliament building in Belgrade on Sunday.

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“Are we animals? What are we? We are human. It happens because we are just a small part of the world, but we are proud. They don’t respect it.”

Tennis Australia’s chief executive, Craig Tilley, said in his first media interview since the uproar began that his organization had been speaking with federal and state officials for several months to ensure safe passage for players.

Czech player Renata Vorakova, who was held in the same detention hotel with Djokovic and had her visa revoked after problems with her vaccination exemption, left the country without challenging her status, the Czech Foreign Ministry said.

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Reporting by Reuters staff. Writing by Jane Wardle; Lincoln Fest Editing.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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