will he stay, or will he go? Djokovic’s hearing weighs heavily


After four nights in an Australian immigrant detention hotel, Novak Djokovic will spend his day in court on Monday in a deportation case that has polarized opinions and garnered genuine support for the top-ranked tennis star in his native Serbia.

Djokovic had his visa canceled after arriving at Melbourne airport last week when Australian border officials ruled he did not meet the criteria for exemption from an entry requirement that all non-citizens were to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

His lawyers have since filed court documents in his challenge to the deportation from Australia which show Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 last month and has recovered. He used this as the ground for requesting a medical exemption from Australia’s strict vaccination rules.

The case is scheduled for a virtual hearing to appeal the visa cancellation. It will take place at 10:00 a.m. local time in Melbourne (11:00 p.m. GMT Sunday) at the Federal Circuit and Family Court in Australia.

Australian media reported on Sunday that an offer by the federal government for more time to prepare his case against Djokovic had been refused. The request, made on behalf of Home Secretary Karen Andrews over the weekend, sought to adjourn the final hearing for two days – just five days before the start of the Australian Open.

Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly has dismissed the request and the case will resume on Monday as scheduled.

In Serbia on Saturday, Djokovic’s family staged a rally in his favor in Belgrade for the third day in a row, and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic assured him of his government’s support in his visa battle to ensure he could enter Australia and defend their title at the Australian Open. The tournament begins on January 17 – barely a week after its court date.

“We were successful in making sure that gluten-free food was delivered to him, as well as exercise tools, a laptop and a SIM card so he could be in contact with his family,” Brnabic said. It comes as Australian media reported that immigration officials have turned down a request for Djokovic’s personal chef to prepare meals for him in the immigration hotel.

Djokovic is a nine-time Australian Open champion. He holds 20 Grand Slam singles titles, a men’s record he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

In Djokovic’s perfect world, he would have eaten dishes cooked by this personal chef, worked out in a gym and trained in the field every day since arriving, mingling with his support group and to his friends along the way.

Instead, he was confined to his room in a modest immigration hotel in downtown Melbourne, with guards in the hallway.

The case has become complex.

Djokovic received a medical exemption backed by the Victoria state government and the organizers of the Australian Open on January 1, based on information he provided to two independent medical panels. It was approved for visa electronically.

But it has since emerged that the state of Victoria’s medical exemption, allowed for people who tested positive for the coronavirus in the past six months, has been ruled invalid by federal border officials.

It would have been good to participate in the tournament, but it was not enough to satisfy the Australian Border Force.

Australian media reported details of court documents due to be filed on Monday. It showed that Djokovic received a letter from Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer on December 30 “recording that he had received a ‘medical exemption from COVID vaccination’ on the grounds that he had recently recovered from COVID.”

He said Djokovic’s first positive test took place on December 16 and, on the date of issue, the exemption stated that the 34-year-old “had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms during the years. Last 72 hours “.

Djokovic attended an event on December 17 in Belgrade in honor of young tennis players. The event was covered by local media and parents posted photos on social media showing Djokovic and the children not wearing masks. It is not clear whether Djokovic knew the results of his test at the time.

On December 14, Djokovic attended a Euroleague basketball match between Red Star and Barcelona at a crowded sports hall in Belgrade. He was pictured hugging several players from both teams, some of whom tested positive shortly after.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has said that “rules are rules” and that inbound passengers are responsible for complying with border regulations, has been accused of using Djokovic’s case to improve his ranking in the polls of popularity ahead of an impending election.

Djokovic’s fate prompted Serbia to claim that Djokovic is being treated like a prisoner. The player himself appears to have become a standard-bearer for anti-vaccine groups, including some who have rallied outside for support outside his immigration hotel.

The organizers of the Australian Open have taken a bit of heat on Djokovic’s situation, and with apparent good reason.

Tennis Australia, which runs the tournament and arranges logistics for more than 2,000 incoming players, staff and officials, has reportedly misinterpreted players as to acceptable grounds for a bye. This included the interpretation that having had a coronavirus infection in the previous six months would qualify. Organizers blamed the federal government for its mixed messages on policy.

Tournament director Craig Tiley has continued to work in the background with Djokovic, it seems.

Tiley’s video message to Australian Open staff about the tournament’s “difficult time in the public arena” appeared in News Corp newspapers on Saturday.

“There was a circumstance that concerned a few players, Novak in particular. . . in a very difficult situation, ”Tiley said in the video. “We are a player-driven event. We are working closely with Novak and his team, and others and their team, who are in this situation.

Djokovic was one of two players detained in the hotel which also houses refugees and asylum seekers. A third person, believed to be a civil servant, left the country voluntarily after investigations by border forces.

The other player was Renata Voráčová, 38, a doubles specialist, who had already been in Australia for a week before an investigation by border officials. The Czech Foreign Ministry said Voráčová voluntarily left Australia after deciding not to appeal the decision.

Monday’s hearing will determine whether Djokovic is not far behind her.

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Associated Press editor Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and AP sports editor John Pye in Brisbane, Australia contributed to this report.

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