Novak Djokovic is set to be detained on Saturday after Australia cancelled his visa for a second time, in a row over his right to remain in the country unvaccinated.
He faces deportation and a three-year visa ban as a result of the decision based on “health and good order.”
Djokovic’s lawyers have called the decision “patently irrational,” and he intends to appeal.
The men’s tennis number one is still scheduled to compete in the Australian Open on Monday in Melbourne.
“Today I exercised my power… to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said in a statement.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that the decision was reached after “careful consideration.”
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Mr Morrison said, referring to the harsh criticism levelled at his government for allowing the unvaccinated player into the country.
Judge Anthony Kelly ruled in an emergency late-night court hearing shortly after the decision was announced on Friday that Djokovic cannot be deported while the appeal proceedings are ongoing. On Sunday, an appeal hearing is scheduled.
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The judge also stated that the government has the authority to detain Djokovic after he meets with immigration officials in Melbourne on Saturday morning. He will, however, be permitted to visit his lawyers’ offices in order to prepare his case for the hearing on Sunday.
On Saturday, at 10:15 a.m. local time, an initial hearing will be held (23:15 GMT on Friday).
The minister’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa was deemed “patently irrational” by Djokovic’s legal team.
Djokovic’s lawyer, Nicholas Wood, citing a government document with more details on why it was revoked, said it was not because he is a danger to the public, but because “he will excite anti-vax sentiment.”
Although Djokovic is not vaccinated, he has not actively promoted anti-vax disinformation. However, Australian anti-vaxxers have been using the hashtag #IStandWithDjokovic on social media.
Mr Wood went on to say that the minister chose to “remove a man of good standing” from Australia and “impair” Djokovic’s future career because of anti-vaccination comments Djokovic made in 2020.
The nine-time Australian Open champion was hoping to defend his title next week, and if he did, he would become the most successful male tennis player in history, with a record 21 Grand Slam titles.
For the time being, Djokovic remains in the Australian Open draw and is scheduled to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday, the tournament’s first day.
Djokovic’s visa was revoked for the first time shortly after his arrival in Melbourne on January 6, after Australian border Force officials said he “failed to provide appropriate evidence” to receive a vaccine exemption.
His initial announcement that he would be playing in the Open sparked a backlash from some Australians, who have been living under long and strict Covid lockdowns, because it was unclear if he would be able to meet the country’s strict entry rules. Melbourne, in particular, was hit hard by lockdowns last year, with residents subjected to heavy restrictions for 262 days.
Djokovic was detained at an immigration hotel for several days before his visa was reinstated by Judge Kelly, who ordered his release after ruling that border officials had violated proper procedure when he arrived.
However, on Friday evening in Melbourne, Mr Hawke cancelled Djokovic’s visa once more, citing separate powers in Australia’s Migration Act.
The act allows him to deport anyone he believes poses a risk to “the health, safety, or good order of the Australian community,” but Djokovic can still appeal.