By Ian Ransom and Sonali Paul
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The Australian government cancelled Novak Djokovic's visa for a second time on Friday, saying the world tennis no. 1, who is unvaccinated for COVID-19, may pose a risk to the community.
The decision raises the prospect of a second court battle by the Serbian tennis star to be allowed to stay and bid for a record 21st major tennis title at the Australian Open, but time is running out with the tournament starting on Monday.
Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke exercised his discretionary powers to revoke Djokovic's visa after a court quashed an earlier revocation and released him from immigration detention on Monday.
"Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so," Hawke said in a statement.
The government "is firmly committed to protecting Australia's borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic," Hawke said.
He said he had "carefully considered" information from Djokovic, the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force.
Under the section of the Migration Act which the minister used to exercise his power to cancel the visa, Djokovic would not be able to secure a visa to come to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances that affect Australia's interest.
Djokovic, the Australian Open defending champion, was included in the draw on Thursday as top seed and was due to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic for his opening match, probably on Monday or Tuesday.
The saga has intensified global debate over rights of choice for vaccines, raised questions over Australia's bungled handling of Djokovic's visa and become a tricky issue https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/anger-over-djokovic-visa-saga-dominates-conversations-australia-2022-01-13 for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he campaigns for re-election.
The tennis star, a vaccine sceptic, fuelled widespread anger in Australia when he announced last week he was heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open with a medical exemption to requirements for visitors to be inoculated against COVID-19.
Australia has endured some of the world's longest lockdowns, has a 90% vaccination rate among adults, and has seen a runaway Omicron outbreak bring nearly a million cases in the last two weeks.
On his arrival, Australian Border Force officials decided his exemption was invalid and he was held alongside asylum-seekers at an immigration detention hotel for several days.
A court on Monday allowed him to stay on the grounds that officials had been "unreasonable" in the way they handled his interview in a seven-hour process in the middle of the night.
Djokovic's cause was not helped by a mistake in his entry declaration relating to overseas travel in the prior two weeks, which he attributed to his agent. He also acknowledged he should have rescheduled an interview and photoshoot for a French newspaper on Dec. 18 while infected with COVID-19.
An online poll by the News Corp media group found that 83% favoured the government trying to deport the tennis star.
"Absolutely, he should go. He hasn't done the right thing and is being a bit cheeky about it," said Venus Virgin Tomarz, 45, who lives in Melbourne.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul, Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Richard Pullin)