Novak Djokovic has received a medical exemption to compete in the Australian Open without being vaccinated against COVID-19, but that same medical exemption could end up preventing him from entering the country.
Djokovic has been denied entry to Australia due to a visa mixup. According to the Times of London, a member of Djokovic's team applied for the wrong class of visa — one that doesn't apply to people who have gotten a medical exemption — and Djokovic's stuck at the airport without a way to enter the country.
But Djokovic is presently unable to proceed through passport control after a member of his support team made a critical mistake in requesting a sub-class of visa that does not apply to those who have received medical exemptions from a COVID-19 vaccine. The error had been discovered by the Australian border force while Djokovic was already traveling on a 14-hour commercial flight from Dubai to Melbourne.
The Australian Border Force later confirmed the report. After spending hours reviewing the situation, Australia intends to send Djokovic back home Thursday.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted about Djokovic's canceled visa on Thursday, too, saying that "rules are rules."
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 2022
Could the Australian government help?
In a case like this, the government of Victoria, the state where the Australian Open takes place, could intervene and help the defending champion gain entry to the country. However, according to the Times of London, the Victorian government has refused to support the federal government's efforts to correct Djokovic's visa application. Acting Victorian sports minister Jaala Pulford appeared to confirm this on Wednesday, tweeting that she and her department will not be supporting Djokovic if he applies for a new visa in the appropriate class.
Update on #AusOpen2022…
The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia.
We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.
— Jaala Pulford MP (@JaalaPulford) January 5, 2022
We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors.
— Jaala Pulford MP (@JaalaPulford) January 5, 2022
Serbian president speaks out
Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said on Instagram on Wednesday that he had spoken with Djokovic on the phone while he is in the airport. According to Reuters, Vucic also summoned the Australian ambassador in Belgrade to demand that Djokovic be allowed to play.
"I've just finished my telephone conversation with Novak Djokovic," Vucic posted on Instagram, via Reuters. "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.
"In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice. Novak is strong, as we all know."
Public outcry over Djokovic's medical exemption
One factor that may be influencing the decision to take a hands-off approach with Djokovic's visa issues is the public response. Ninety percent of the Australian population has been vaccinated, and the country has continued to implement lockdowns and travel restrictions even as other nations have relaxed them.
So when Djokovic announced that he'd been granted a medical exemption to compete at the Australian Open without being vaccinated against COVID-19, the reaction from the Australian public was largely negative — especially because no explanation was given by him or Tennis Australia.
I don't care how good a tennis player he is. If he's refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn't be allowed in. If this exemption is true, it sends an appalling message to millions seeking to reduce #COVID19Aus risk to themselves & others. #Vaccination shows respect, Novak. pic.twitter.com/enwr03s5KO
— Stephen Parnis (@SParnis) January 4, 2022
What a disgrace!
We have had 6 lockdowns - schools and small businesses closed, funerals and weddings told not to go ahead, families separated for months on end and now a tennis star gets an exemption.
A kick in the guts to every Victorian.#springst #AusOpen
— David Southwick MP (@SouthwickMP) January 4, 2022
Djokovic is under no obligation to explain why he was given a medical exemption so he could compete without being vaccinated. However, he has been publicly against vaccines and vaccine mandates and has refused to comment on his own vaccination status. With Australia continuing to be so vigilant against the spread of COVID-19, Djokovic's exemption appeared to many to be a star tennis player receiving special treatment to enter their country when some of them aren't even allowed to travel between states.
What happens now?
No one is sure what Djokovic's options are. The government in Victoria appears to be dedicated to treating Djokovic like any other person. Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, already warned that there could be a non-visa issue with Djokovic entering the country, saying recently that Djokovic would have to prove he has a medical reason for not getting the vaccine before he would be allowed entry, as everyone is.
As of noon ET, which is 4am local time in Melbourne, Djokovic still hadn't been allowed through customs, and was reportedly being "isolated" at the airport.
Djokovic is currently isolated in a room, not allowed to use his mobile phone.
— Saša Ozmo (@ozmo_sasa) January 5, 2022
Djokovic's father, Srdjan Djokovic, was not happy about his son's detention. Srdjan, who is quite outspoken, told 7News that he is not being told what's happening with Djokovic. And then he said a few more things.
“I have no idea what’s going on, they’re holding my son captive for five hours.”
“This is a fight for the libertarian world, not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world!
“If they don’t let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street, this is a fight for everyone.”
Australia plans to deport Novak Djokovic on Thursday
Australia reportedly canceled Djokovic's visa, and intends to deport him Thursday, according to BBC.com. Djokovic's lawyers will reportedly appeal that decision.
Australia's health minister, Greg Hunt, confirmed the country intends to send Djokovic home, saying he did not provide "appropriate standards of proof" to enter Australia.
Greg Hunt, Australia's health minister, confirms Djokovic has failed to provide 'appropriate standards of proof' to enter the country and that he will be sent home.
— Oliver Brown (@oliverbrown_tel) January 5, 2022
The Australian Border Force released a statement confirming Djokovic's visa was canceled over failing to "provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia."
The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements.
The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled.
Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled
will be detained and removed from Australia.
The ABF can confirm Mr Djokovic had access to his phone.
Djokovic and his legal time won't have much time to resolve the issue. The 2022 Australian Open is scheduled to begin Jan. 17.