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Novak Djokovic Drama Down Under: From Covid-19 Infection Last Month to Court Case in Melbourne

Novak Djokovic, who was travelling to participate in the Australian Open tennis tournament, was denied entry at the Melbourne airport on Wednesday after the country’s border officials cancelled his visa for failing to meet its entry requirement that non-citizens should be fully vaccinated for Covid-19.
Novak Djokovic detained in Melbourne

Novak Djokovic was given a medical exemption backed by the Victoria state government and Australian Open organizers based on information he supplied to two independent medical panels.

Novak Djokovic was denied entry at the Melbourne airport on January 5 after the Australian border officials canceled his visa for failing to meet one of its primary entry requirements. Australia requires all non-citizens travelling to the country to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19. The top ranked tennis player in the world is in an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne, preparing for his challenge in the Federal Circuit Court on January 10.

Meanwhile, reports have surfaced that Djokovic received medical vaccination exemption after he provided proof of contracting Covid-19 in December. His lawyers filed court documents in his challenge against deportation from Australia that showed the star contracted Covid-19 last month, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on January 8.

Djokovic was given a medical exemption backed by the Victoria state government and Australian Open organizers based on information he supplied to two independent medical panels. However, it has emerged that the medical exemption, allowed for people who tested positive for the coronavirus in the previous six months, was deemed invalid by border authorities.

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In the documents filed Saturday, Djokovic's lawyers said Tennis Australia granted the 34-year-old a “medical exemption from Covid vaccination” since he had recently recovered from the coronavirus. The certification said the date of Djokovic's first positive test was December 16, 2021, and that he had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms in the past 72 hours.

The court submission said Djokovic received a document from Australia's Department of Home Affairs saying that his travel declaration had been assessed and that his responses indicated that he met the requirements for quarantine-free arrival in Australia.

If he fails to have his visa cancellation overturned and gets deported for not having enough evidence to support a medical exemption to Australia's Covid-19 vaccination rules, Djokovic risks missing more than one Australian Open and could be barred for up to three years.

Australian Open organizers have not commented on the issue. However, they did send out a statement to Australian newspapers that no players have been misled over the vaccination requirements.

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The Grand Slam’s tournament director Craig Tiley is working with Djokovic, hoping to get the defending champion into the tournament that starts a week from Monday.

TIley mentioned the challenges in a video message to the tournament’s staff. It is a “difficult time in the public arena,” he said.

“There's been a circumstance that relates to a couple of players, Novak particularly . . . in a situation that is very difficult," Tiley added in the video.

"We're a player-first event. We're working closely with Novak and his team, and others and their team, that are in this situation.”

Djokovic is one of two players put into detention in a hotel in Melbourne that also houses refugees and asylum seekers. A third person, reported to be an official, left the country voluntarily after border force investigations.

The other player was identified by the Czech Republic embassy in Canberra as 38-year-old doubles player Renata Vorácová.

Djokovic, meanwhile, gave a statement on Friday night via social media to mark the Orthodox Christmas and thank his supporters. There's been large-scale rallies in Belgrade and small groups of supporters have gathered daily outside his detention hotel.

“Thank you to the people around the world for your continuous support," Djokovic posted on Instagram. "I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated.”

On January 4, after months of speculation he'd miss the tournament because of his stance on vaccination, Djokovic announced via social media that he'd received a medical exemption from the Victorian state government, backed by tennis organizers.

He travelled to the country based on the exemption but was barred from entering Australia late Wednesday when federal border authorities at the Melbourne airport rejected his exemption.

Tiley said in the video to staff that he couldn't speak publicly because of the ongoing legal matter, but defended his organization.

“There's a lot of finger pointing going on and a lot of blaming going on," he said in the video, "but I can assure you our team has done an unbelievable job and have done everything they possibly could according to all the instructions that they have been provided.”

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There has been a lot of blame game doing the rounds, meanwhile. The federal government blamed Djokovic, with the prime minister saying rules are rules and that incoming passengers were responsible for meeting border regulations.

Tennis Australia and the government of Victoria state, where the Australian Open is played, are blaming confusion over the precise definitions.

Tennis Australia, which runs the tournament and organizes the logistics for more than 2,000 incoming players, staff and officials, reportedly gave incorrect interpretations to players about the acceptable grounds for an exemption. That included the interpretation that having had a coronavirus infection within the previous six months would qualify.

That appears to be the key to the dispute. The federal government said applications on those grounds weren't valid.

The state government of Victoria mandated that all players, staff, fans and officials must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the tournament.

The state, which approved the medical exemptions for Djokovic, said those exemptions for were for access to Melbourne Park, not the border. 

(With additions from AP/PTI)

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