Novak Djokovic was re-arrested in Australia on Saturday after authorities revoked his visa for the second time and declared the tennis superstar a public threat. Court documents show the 34-year-old Serbian is currently being held at a Melbourne address as his appeal against deportation is being heard. Just two days before the start of the Australian Open, the world number one, with its Covid-19 vaccine status, has turned its attention to the court of law instead of the central court in the latest twist in the high-profile row.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has now claimed that Djokovic’s continued presence in the country could “provoke anti-vaccination sentiment” and even “increase civil unrest”.
Djokovic was summoned to appear before immigration officials in Melbourne before an emergency federal court hearing on Saturday and Sunday.
He was allowed to follow court proceedings from an address – which was supposed to be his lawyers’ office – guarded by an Australian Border Force officer.
This is the second attempt by the Australian Conservative government to deport Djokovic, the world’s most high-profile Covid-19 vaccine suspect.
The 34-year-old used a medical discount to enter Australia earlier this month in hopes of challenging to win a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Serbian Open.
Amid public outrage, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government revoked Djokovic’s arrival visa.
Many Australians – who have long suffered from lockdowns and border restrictions – believe Djokovic has played the system to avoid the need for vaccine access.
But the government was humiliated when a judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa and allowed him to stay in the country.
This time, the government has called on the executive – exceptional – and difficult to challenge – executive powers to declare him a threat to public health and safety.
The government argues that Djokovic’s presence is a threat to public health and discipline, especially since Australia is suffering from the ebb and flow of omikron infection.
His continued presence in the country “could pose a health risk to the Australian community” reinforces anti-vaccine sentiment and discourages people from getting boosters, Immigration Minister Hawk argued, according to a court filing released Saturday.
Djokovic’s lawyers argued that the government had “not cited any evidence” in support of their claim.
The minister acknowledged that Djokovic was at “negligible” risk of infecting Australians, but argued that his past “neglect” of the Kovid-19 regulation could pose a risk to public health and encourage people to ignore epidemic rules.
‘Health and well-being’
In mid-December, the tennis star contracted Covid-19 and, according to his own calculations, failed to break even knowing he was positive.
Public records show he took part in a stamp unveiling, youth tennis event, and gave a media interview during his testing and confirmation of his infection.
In a statement, Hawke said the government was “firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, especially in relation to the Kovid-19 epidemic”, citing “health and good discipline” as the basis for Djokovic’s decision to revoke his visa.
The minister said it was in the public interest to do so.
The government has agreed not to deport Djokovic until the hearing is over, Barrister Stephen Lloyd told an emergency session of federal court late Friday night.
Djokovic is the top pick of the Australian Open and a nine-time tournament winner. He had been practicing for hours before Hawk’s decision was announced.
It is unclear whether Djokovic will stay and fight if he is unable to compete in the Australian Open.
Serbian President Alexander Vusik on Friday accused Australia of “abusing” the country’s biggest star and a national hero.
“If you want to ban Novak Djokovic from winning the tenth trophy in Melbourne, why didn’t you send him back immediately, why didn’t you tell him it was ‘impossible to get a visa’?” Vusik said on Instagram.
“Novak, we are by your side!”
‘In the public interest’
Prime Minister Morrison backed the decision, saying: “Australians have made many sacrifices during this epidemic and they are hopeful that the consequences of those sacrifices will be safeguarded.”
Visa revocation effectively means that Djokovic will be barred from obtaining a new Australian visa for three years, except in exceptional circumstances, as he will be eliminated from one of the four Grand Slam tournaments during that time.
He has won 20 Grand Slam titles with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Former world number one Andy Murray, who will play in the Open, said on Friday he hoped Djokovic’s condition would clear up.
“It looks like it’s been stretched for a long time now and (it’s) not great for tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak,” Murray said.
Djokovic has been criticized by other players, including world number four Stefanos Sitsipas.
“He is definitely playing by his own rules,” Citcipas told Indian broadcaster WWE on Thursday.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)
Topics mentioned in this article