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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Novak Djokovic saga: Australia investigates visas of other tennis players

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Novak Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia, a top official says, as the men’s world number one tennis player faces deportation over Covid vaccination rules.

The Serbian actor is still being held in immigration detention in Melbourne after being denied entry on Wednesday.

A court challenge is due on Monday, one week before the start of the Australian Open.

Czech tennis player Renata Voracova’s visa to Australia has also been revoked, according to local media on Friday.

More uncertainty now surrounds the tournament’s schedule, which Djokovic has won nine times. With a tenth victory, he would become the men’s most successful player, with 21 Grand Slams.

Djokovic, who has said he is opposed to vaccination, had been granted a medical exemption to play in the tournament for unspecified reasons, in a decision that infuriated many Australians. More than 90% of the country’s adult population are fully vaccinated, but they still face restrictions as cases of infection rise.

Djokovic’s exemption was given by two independent medical panels organised by Tennis Australia, the body that runs the event, and Victoria state.

But on Wednesday, Australian Border Force (ABF) officials said the 34-year-old player had “failed to provide appropriate evidence” at Melbourne Airport.

Tennis Australia has been chastised by the federal government for ignoring ABF advice on entry requirements. Tennis Australia, Victoria said on Friday, had also failed to pass on this advice.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also been accused of politicising the situation. The prime minister is under pressure as a result of the increase in Covid-19 infections in the country, and a federal election is expected to be held in May. Mr Morrison has denied that the visa was revoked due to “any particular position in relation to Serbia.”

However, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has stated that Djokovic is the victim of “harassment.” On Friday, as Serbs celebrated Orthodox Christmas, Serbia’s Patriarch Porfirije sent Djokovic a message of support, saying that millions of Orthodox Serbs were praying for him.

It is not yet clear how long Djokovic will remain in the immigration detention hotel that has often been criticised by refugees for its poor conditions. Serbia has demanded Australia move him to a nicer hotel.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told Channel 9 on Friday that Djokovic “is free to leave whenever he chooses to do so, and Border Force will actually facilitate that.”

Ms Andrews stated that there was intelligence “indicating that there are some individuals here now who have not met the entry requirements, and we need to investigate that.”

She did not, however, specify how many other players were being investigated or who they were.

Outside the hotel where Novak Djokovic is being held, tensions and emotions have been high. His supporters stayed until well after midnight.

On the pavement, some people wrote “stay strong” in big yellow letters. Others began to light candles.

“It’s [Orthodox] Christmas,” a visibly emotional woman told me. “He’ll be on his own up there. It’s all a farce.”

This storey has numerous threads. The rage. The political situation. It is the visa. And, of course, there’s the tennis, which is why the world number one is here.

Fans of Novak Djokovic are outraged that he was allowed to travel all the way to Australia only to be told he had to leave due to a visa issue.

Other Australians, however, are outraged that a world-class athlete who has been vocal about his vaccine opposition has been granted an exemption, despite the fact that their own politicians have been urging them for nearly a year to get both jabs and now the booster.

Both types of rage are understandable, and they share at least one characteristic: rage at how the authorities handled the situation.

The state and federal governments, as well as Tennis Australia, have been in a constant squabble, with much finger-pointing.

Politicians have sought to demonstrate their ability to control who enters and exits the country, but in doing so, they have lost control of the narrative.

Regardless of how you look at it, Australia is in an embarrassing situation.

Jelena Djokovic, Djokovic’s wife, thanked people “all over the world for using your voice to send love to my husband.”

Srdjan, the player’s father, said his son was being held in an airport room guarded by police, and that it was “not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the entire world.”

Djokovic received qualified support from Australian player Nick Kyrgios, who tweeted that he supports vaccinations but that “how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad.”

Others, however, such as Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal, who is currently in Melbourne preparing for the tournament, have stated that it is “normal” for Australians to become “very frustrated with the case.”

“The only clear thing for me is that if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open,” he said, adding, “Of course, after a lot of people died for two years, my feeling is [that] the vaccine is the only way to stop this pandemic.”

The Australian Open starts on January 17th.

SourceBBC
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