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REPORTS: Novak Djokovic denied entry into Australia after being held overnight for questioning regarding vaccine exemption documentation
The world No. 1's bid for a men's record 21st major is all but likely on hold until the French Open now, unless he wins an appeal before being deported. The hearing was delayed until Monday at 10 a.m. per a source.
Published Jan 05, 2022
Late Wednesday night, after arriving in Melbourne around 11:30 p.m. local time, Novak Djokovic’s assumed clearance to play the Australian Open with a medical exemption came into significant question when the Serbian's entry to Australia was delayed by inquiries surrounding the documentation with his visa.
Around 8:15 a.m. the following morning, after being held overnight for questioning, the world No. 1 was denied entry into the country according to multiple sources. His Australian Open campaign and quest for a men's record 21st major are in all likelihood over unless he successfully appeals the decision, an action his lawyers have taken. Djokovic headed to a quarantine hotel in Carlton overseen by the federal government while arrangements for a return flight were looked into. At 6:27 p.m. Courtney Walsh reported his hearing against the Minister for Immigration was deferred until 10 a.m. Monday.
In a statement, the Australian Border Force (ABF) said, “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 canceled. Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa canceled will be detained and removed from Australia.”
Reports initially indicated the type of visa Djokovic applied for did not authorize medical exemptions for being unvaccinated, but the issue shifted to the strength of Djokovic's evidence for a medical exemption. As of 1:43 a.m., the 34-year-old was in an airport room with border officials assessing his documents, reported Paul Sakkal of The Age. B92, a Serbian outlet, published at 3:33 a.m. that Djokovic's father said his son was “housed in a room and no one can enter. There are two policemen in front.”
At 4:02 a.m., Ozmo added that Djokovic was not allowed to use his mobile phone. A short time later, Djokovic's coach Goran Ivanisevic wrote on an Instagram post, “Not the most usual trip Down Under.” Ivanisevic was pictured near Djokovic's physio Ulises Badio in an area with lounge chairs.
By 5:30 a.m., officials were still reviewing Djokovic's documentation. Per Sakkal, “the longer it goes, the smaller the chance he'll be permitted entry.” Djokovic's phone was returned roughly three hours after being confiscated.
The 20-time major champion received strong public support from Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić. At 7:12 a.m., he declared in a translated Instagram post on his account, “Just got off the phone with Novak Djokovic. I told our Novak that the whole Serbia is with him and that our authorities are taking all measures to stop the harassment of the best tennis player in the world in the shortest possible time.
“In accordance with all the norms of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic, for justice and truth.”
As reported by multiple Australian news agencies, the ABF originally attempted to resolve the issue by reaching out to authorities in Victoria to support Djokovic's entry. Their request was declined.
Jaala Pulford, acting Victorian sports minister, asserted on Twitter that, “We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.
“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.”
Earlier Wednesday, Tennis Australia (TA) confirmed the bulk of the 26 exemption applications that were submitted came from players or officials who contracted COVID-19 within the past six months. Djokovic was previously infected in June 2020 during the Adria Tour but did not publicly disclose coming down with a second case in 2021.
TA did not release how many applications in addition to Djokovic’s had been approved by a pair of independent panels, limiting the details to a “handful.” Personal information, including name, country of origin and date of birth, were excluded when submission details were reviewed by the panels made up of experts in general practice, immunology and infectious diseases.
"I want to make absolutely clear that as has been the case the whole time no-one is or will be receiving special treatment because of who they are or what they have achieved professionally,” Pulford said during a press conference in the afternoon.
Dr. Carolyn Broderick, chief medical officer of TA, conceded the panels and her organization did not assess the authenticity of supporting documentation, nor had direct contact with overseas doctors on the matter. She assured text notifications were not the primary source of verification.
“They’re not doing any sort of intelligence operation. It’s really taken on the basis of how they would assess medical documents that are presented to them in Australia,” Broderick said.
“They were looking for official seals, obviously. It wasn’t just based off a text message. These were formal laboratory reports.”
Thursday morning, The Age reported, “Tennis Australia was told explicitly in writing a number of times that a recent COVID infection was not an acceptable reason not to be fully vaccinated.”
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has maintained throughout its monthly COVID-19 updates that a prior infection is “not a contraindication to vaccination.” The Age notably clarified a point regarding the exemption system Djokovic and the other 25 applicants pursued.
“Federal sources say ATAGI did not endorse the process that the Victorian government or Tennis Australia put in place and it was never engaged.”
The Sydney Morning Herald then broke a story claiming TA CEO Craig Tiley was notified in writing on two separate occasions last November that quarantine-free travel would not be granted to unvaccinated players who picked up COVID-19 within the six-month period. The reasoning stems from ATAGI's definition of a fully-vaccinated person, casting questions on why exemptions for any applicant using the recent coronavirus infection claim were issued in the first place.
Djokovic is the lone competitor to reveal his acceptance into the Melbourne major was the result of a medical exemption.
Stay tuned for updates on this developing story