Novak Djokovic was denied entry to Australia ahead of Australian Open

Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic’s bid to play at the Australian Open – with a medical exemption to bypass vaccination requirements – appeared to end on Wednesday as government officials canceled his visa to enter the country.

A spokeswoman for Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed that Djokovic would not be allowed to enter the country. Djokovic and his team had been detained at Melbourne Airport for more than six hours by Australian border forces when he was told he had to leave immediately.

“Sir. Djokovic has not provided proper evidence to qualify for entry into Australia,” Hunt told Australian TV. “It is a question for him if he wishes to appeal, but if a visa is canceled, someone will have to leave the country. “

The situation quickly escalated when Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic

spoke on Instagram after contacting Djokovic by phone.

“I told our Novak that all of Serbia were with him and that our authorities were taking all measures to end the harassment of the best tennis player in the world as soon as possible,” he said. “In accordance with all standards of public international law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic, for justice and truth.”

Novak Djokovic holds the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup trophy after winning the 2021 Australian Open.


Photo:

michael dodge / TENNIS AUSTRALIA / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said people ‘try to cross the border all the time’ but Djokovic has failed to obtain the necessary medical exemption from rules requiring arrivals to be given two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine . He said it was not appropriate to discuss Djokovic’s medical history, but added that the government told organizers of the Australian Open in late November that a diagnosis and recovery from Covid within six months of entry would not exempt players from Australia’s vaccination requirements.

The saga of Djokovic’s possible trip to Australia had been brewing for months. The world number 1 male had made it known he did not want to be vaccinated while the organizers of the Australian Open and the local government insisted that no unvaccinated players be admitted, according to national law requiring travelers to be bitten.

But the situation quickly changed within 24 hours. Djokovic tweeted Tuesday that he had obtained a medical exemption allowing him to participate in the tournament and to aim for a 21st major title. Djokovic did not say why he got the waiver, but organizers said the tournament was signed in coordination with health authorities in Victoria.

Mr Morrison said Australia’s entry requirements were well known and suggested that Djokovic had attracted further scrutiny from border officials by publicly publishing his plans.

“When people make public statements about what they say they have and what they are going to do and what their demands are, they call attention to themselves,” he said. “Anyone who does this – be it a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player, a journalist, whoever does this – can expect to be asked more questions. than the others. “

Indeed, it was only after Djokovic hit the ground that he discovered that, despite the green light from Tennis Australia and local authorities, the Australian border authority needed additional documents. During a stressful wait that lasted over six hours, Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic posted a selfie on Instagram with the caption, “Not the most usual trip down.”

Djokovic could not be reached for comment.

“Anyone seeking entry into Australia must comply with our strict border requirements,” said Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews. “While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may allow an unvaccinated player to participate in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border.”

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It was not immediately clear whether Djokovic, 34, could renew his candidacy in time to play when the tournament begins on January 17. If he had been eligible to participate, he would have been the automatic favorite to win a record 10th Australian Open and take his major title tally above Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the first time in his career. (Nadal must play the tournament.)

Although Djokovic thought he was clear, outrage built up overnight while he was in the air. The state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, has spent much of the past 21 months under strict lockdown and residents felt it was receiving special treatment.

Morrison had said on Wednesday that Djokovic would have to “provide acceptable proof that he cannot be medically vaccinated” to enter the country, although tennis and border officials have already given the green light.

“If that evidence is insufficient, then he will not be treated any differently from the others and he will be on the next plane back,” Morrison added. “There shouldn’t be any special rules for Novak Djokovic. Not at all.”

Djokovic, who contracted and recovered from Covid in the summer of 2020, was one of 26 players heading to the Australian Open to seek medical exemption. Only “a handful” received one after a blind review by two independent commissions, tournament director Craig Tiley said. “For the tennis players it was a process that went beyond what anyone coming to Australia would have experienced.”

A Serbian tennis fan waves a flag at Melbourne Airport.


Photo:

william west / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Tournament organizers had previously insisted that no one – players, coaches, staff or fans – would be admitted without vaccination. But this week, he appeared to turn the tide as a showdown loomed between the Australian Open and the most successful male player in history.

“Fair and independent protocols have been established to assess medical exemption requests that will allow us to ensure that the 2022 Australian Open is safe and enjoyable for everyone,” Tiley said.

But Wednesday’s confusion and final denial, first reported by Australian newspaper The Age, appeared to stem from a lack of visa coordination between local authorities, the federal government and Djokovic’s team.

With so much control over his vaccine status, Djokovic waited to travel to Australia later than most of the players, who were already on the pitch for warm-up events. Several expressed their surprise that he was on his way.

“I don’t know what to say about it,” said British doubles player Jamie Murray after his ATP Cup game. “I think if it was me who wasn’t vaccinated, I wouldn’t get an exemption.”

Write to Joshua Robinson at Joshua.Robinson@wsj.com and to Stuart Condie at stuart.condie@wsj.com

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