MELBOURNE0. (BBC Sport) — Australia has revoked tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time in a row over his right to remain in the country unvaccinated, throwing next week’s Australian Open tournament into disarray.
His lawyers are preparing to lodge an appeal and Australia has agreed not to deport him yet.
Djokovic’s legal team have since submitted a request for an injunction, delaying his deportation.
The nine-time Australian Open winner will not be detained or deported overnight, although he will be under detention this morning when he attends the office of his lawyers ahead of the hearing tomorrow morning.
Officials said the world tennis No. 1, who is unvaccinated for Covid-19, may pose a risk to the community, dashing his hopes of competing for his 21st grand slam.
The cancellation means Djokovic would be barred from a new Australian visa for three years, except in compelling circumstances that affect Australia’s interest.
The decision to again cancel his visa over Covid-19 entry regulations raises the prospect of a possible second court battle by the Serbian tennis star to be allowed to stay and play in the Open starting on Monday.
A source close to Djokovic’s team confirmed to Reuters that he is considering the decision and weighing his options, with video yesterday purportedly showing a car – believed to be carrying the player – arriving at his lawyer’s officers.
Djokovic, the Australian Open defending champion, was included in the tournament’s draw on Thursday as top seed and was due to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic for his opening match, probably on Monday or Tuesday.
The saga has intensified global debate over rights of choice for vaccines, raised questions over Australia’s bungled handling of Djokovic’s visa and become a tricky issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he campaigns for re-election.
Morrison said yesterday his government cancelled Djokovic’s visa to protect Australia’s hard-won gains against the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘’Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,’’ Morrison said in a statement.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used discretionary powers to again cancel Djokovic’s visa, after a court quashed an earlier revocation and released him from immigration detention on Monday.
‘’Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act 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,’’ Hawke said in a statement.
‘’This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10 January 2022, quashing a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds.
‘’In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic.
‘’The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.’’
Hawke’s decision comes just three days out from the start of the Australian Open where Djokovic had hoped to become the most successful male player of all time.
It will likely result in another round of court action by the 34-year-old Serb who has already won the Open nine times, and throw the grand slam tournament into further disarray.
However, legal experts say it would be difficult – if not impossible – for Djokovic to successfully challenge a visa cancellation decision made personally by the Immigration Minister.
Djokovic could be held in detention in Melbourne while the Open goes on without the world’s top ranked player, creating a nightmare scenario for Tennis Australia.
Protests have been predicted and the federal government can expect an international backlash in response to its decision, particularly from Serbia.
Melbourne’s The Age newspaper earlier yesterday cited a source in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party as saying the government was ‘’strongly leaning’’ towards revoking the visa again.
While Morrison’s government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not escaped criticism over the botched handling of Djokovic’s visa.
The tennis star, a vaccine sceptic, fuelled widespread anger in Australia when he announced last week he was heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open with a medical exemption to requirements for visitors to be inoculated against Covid-19.
Australia has endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns, has a 90 percent vaccination rate among adults, and has seen a runaway Omicron outbreak bring nearly a million cases in the last two weeks.
Djokovic was facing mounting criticism for his actions, including from other tennis players set to take part in the Australian Open next week.
Greek world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas said Djokovic was ‘’playing by his own rules’’ and making vaccinated players ‘’look like fools’’.
‘’No-one really thought they could come to Australia unvaccinated and not having to follow the protocols … it takes a lot of daring to do and putting the grand slam at risk, which I don’t think many players would do,’’ Tsitsipas said in an interview with India’s WION news channel.
An online poll by the News Corp media group found that 83 percent favoured the government trying to deport the tennis star.
‘’Absolutely, he should go. He hasn’t done the right thing and is being a bit cheeky about it,’’ said Venus Virgin Tomarz (45), who lives in Melbourne.
‘’To be honest, it’s political. But if what the media are saying is true – that he didn’t come with the right paperwork – he should be treated just like everyone else,’’ said Jacob Coluccio (25), who also lives in Melbourne.
‘’It should never have come to this,’’ said opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
‘’They have never answered the question of how is it that that visa was granted in the first place if he wasn’t eligible because he wasn’t fully vaccinated.’’