Vaccine-free tennis star Novak Djokovic on Saturday won the right to take the fight against deportation from Australia to federal court as the government revoked his visa for the second time on COVID-19 entry rules.
The government vowed not to deport him until the case was settled, although the world number one was still ordered to return to pre-deportation detention before 8 a.m. (2100 GMT Friday).
His legal team submitted his appeal late last night – less than three hours after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke exercised discretionary power to revoke his visa – in the hope that he could still begin defending his Australian Open title on Monday.
They said they would argue that Djokovic’s deportation could be just as dangerous to public health, inciting anti-vaccine sentiment, and allowing him to stay and free Australia from the need to vaccinate all visitors.
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has received domestic support for its tough stance on border security during the epidemic, it has not escaped criticism for its apparently inconsistent handling of Djokovic’s visa application.
The 34-year-old Serbian, bidding for a record 21st Grand Slam title, was told on arrival on January 5 that the medical exemption that enabled him to travel was invalid.
He also spent several days in immigration detention at a hotel used for asylum seekers, before the decision was overturned on a procedural basis.
Hawke said on Friday that he had now exercised his privilege to revoke the visa “on the grounds that it was in the public interest to do so in good health and in good health”.
He said he had considered information from Djokovic and the authorities and that the government was “firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, especially in relation to the COVID-19 epidemic”.
Judge Anthony Kelly, who dismissed the first revocation, said the government had agreed not to deport Djokovic before the case was completed, and that the player could leave detention to meet with his lawyers and attend the hearing.
Although Djokovic has publicly opposed mandatory vaccinations, he has not generally campaigned against vaccinations.
The controversy, however, has intensified the global debate over vaccine rights and has become a difficult political issue for Morrison as he prepares for elections in May.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this epidemic, and they rightly expect the results of those sacrifices to be safe,” Morrison said in a statement.
This is what the Minister is doing in taking these steps today. Our strong border security policies have protected Australians. “
Australia has suffered some of the longest lockdowns in the world, and in the last two weeks a fugitive omikron has erupted and brought in nearly a million cases.
More than 90% of Australian adults have been vaccinated, and an online poll by News Corp Media Group found that 83% favored Djokovic’s deportation.
His cause was not helped by the announcement of a false entry, where a box was marked stating that he had not traveled abroad in the two weeks before leaving for Australia.
In fact, he traveled between Spain and Serbia.
Djokovic accused his agent of wrongdoing and admitted that he should not have done an interview or photoshoot for a French newspaper on December 18 when Kovid-19 was infected.
However, the player was hailed as a hero by anti-vaccination campaigners and more than 200 people were arrested during the occasional violent protest against a lockdown in Melbourne last September to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Djokovic’s legal team said the government was arguing that allowing him to stay in Australia would provoke others to refuse vaccinations.
One of his lawyers told the court that this was “clearly irrational” because Hawk was ignoring the “anti-wax sentiment and the impact it could have on public order” by forcibly removing “this high profile, legally relevant, insignificant risk, medically contradictory player”.
Djokovic looked relaxed as he practiced service and return with his staff in an empty courthouse in Melbourne Park on Friday, occasionally resting to wipe sweat from his face.
He was included as the top seed in the draw and faced his fellow Serb Miomir Kekmanovic on Monday.
Speaking before Hawk’s decision, Greek world number four Stefanos Sitsipas said Djokovic was “playing by his own rules” and that the vaccinated players looked “stupid”.
In Belgrade, some had already resigned Djokovic to be absent from the tournament.
“She is a role model for all of us, but the rules must be clearly set,” Milan Majstrovic told Reuters TV. “I’m not sure how big the involvement of politics is.”
Another passerby, Anna Bojik, said: “He could either be vaccinated to be number one in the world – or he could be stubborn and end his career.”