Australia may not be the first place everyone thinks of when they imagine a battle over human rights and freedom, but it’s happening right now. Tennis world champion Novak Djokovic is embroiled in a head-to-head with the Australian government over his vaccination status, or rather lack thereof. To travel in and out of Australia, you must either provide proof of vaccination, or an adequate medical exemption. Djokovic and his team have been holding strong against the government which is taking a hard stance against the unvaccinated. Here’s what’s happened so far.
Frustrating New Revelations
Fans just want to watch tennis. But the saga with Novak Djokovic has just taken another frustrating turn. The tennis superstar recently revealed that he did not isolate after testing positive for COVID. While he knew he was positive, he admits to having attended a newspaper interview and photoshoot. In retrospect, Djokovic admits that he made an “error in judgment.”
It also appears that someone on his team added inaccurate information to the papers that should have granted a medical exemption from the vaccine. Djokovic calls it a case of, “human error.” Someone on the team did not confirm in the paperwork that Djokovic traveled in the two weeks prior to flying to Australia. Insider reports, “‘My agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia,’ he said in a statement posted to Instagram.
‘This was a human error and certainly not deliberate. We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur.'”
The tennis world champion shared another statement on Instagram which reads, “I want to address the continuing misinformation about my activities and attendance at events in December in the lead up to my positive PCR COVID test result.
This is misinformation which needs to be corrected, particularly in the interest of alleviating broader concern in the community about my presence in Australia, and to address matters which are very hurtful and concerning to my family.” The comments are flooded with people showing support for Djokovic as both a person and player, signaling that despite the battle he faces ahead, he still has the love and support of many.
While Djokovic was granted the first win in the battle to restore his Visa, the future of his time in Australia remains uncertain. It’s a frightening and worrying time for both Djokovic and his loved ones; unfortunately for them, all they can do now is wait.
The Calm Before the Storm
A few days ago, the tennis world was struck a disruptive blow: the reigning world champ looked like he wouldn’t be allowed into Australia to attend the Australian Open, one of the biggest world competitions in the sport. CELEB took a look at this controversy as it unfolded, “The 34-year-old world champion is openly skeptical about vaccines but avoided wading into the fray. However, when it came time for him to travel to Australia to attend the Australian Open, he revealed that he was using a medical exemption to skip the vaccine. Djokovic was conditionally approved to attend the Open, which starts January 17.
However, the Australian government said, ‘not so fast.’ They wanted Djokovic to prove his medical exemption was legit or stay out. Australia right now is at the center of a firestorm of cases. The relatively isolated country has been handling the virus fairly well, with case numbers and deaths below those of Western peers. But with Omicron hitting like a sledgehammer, they’re being very strict about enforcing the vaccination status of those flying into the country.
As a result, Djokovic was prevented from leaving his hotel – and may now face deportation. It’s a surprising twist given that his medical exemption was approved for the tournament, but Australian Border Force says that he has failed to provide enough documentation to prove that the medical exemption is legitimate.
The BBC reports, ‘Djokovic landed at Melbourne Airport at about 23:30 on Wednesday local time (12:30 GMT). He was promptly assessed and rejected for entry. His visa was cancelled on the spot and he was taken into temporary immigration detention.
The tennis player had failed to provide evidence he was double vaccinated, or had a legitimate exemption to that, Mr Morrison said. He also explained that a recent Covid-19 infection, or one in the past six months, was not a valid reason under federal rules.
Djokovic was taken away by Australian Border Force (ABF) officials to an immigration holding hotel, where he is now awaiting a decision on his fate. The rest of his team was allowed to enter Australia because their vaccination status was approved, Australian media reported.’”
The Legal Battle – Novak Triumphs
From there, Djokovic’s fate was left to the courts. He awaited the answer in an immigration detention hotel, as a judge reviewed his exemption. Although Djokovic hasn’t spoken openly about his vaccine status – still – it was revealed that the reason his team believes he is legally exempt is because he was infected with COVID for the second time in December – recent enough to still confer natural antibodies.
Djokovic told authorities that he complied with requests by Tennis Australia and the government in Victoria to provide proof of his medical exemption. Nonetheless, his Visa was initially revoked, and it took a lengthy hearing to undo. A federal circuit judge by the name of Anthony Kelly is the one who made the decision to return Djokovic’s visa, due to a technicality. Yahoo! Sports reports that the government did not follow protocol when questioning the tennis superstar; “Djokovic was questioned for about eight hours through the night at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport and should have been given until 8:30 a.m. local time to respond to notice that authorities intended to cancel his visa. The decision was made 48 minutes before that, denying Djokovic more time to consult with his lawyers.
It’s that error that led Kelly to overturn Djokovic’s visa cancellation and grant him entrance to Australia.”
Djokovic’s parents are celebrating their son’s victory, suggesting that it was a win for more than just tennis: it’s a win for freedom. The Independent shares via Yahoo!, “Later on Monday Djokovic resumed training ahead of the Australian Open, and his family gave a passionate press conference in which they hailed the deliverance of ‘justice’.
‘People of the world, thank you for unconditional support,’ Djokovic’s father said. ‘He fought for freedom of thoughts, freedom of speech. It’s been very, very difficult for us, as for everyone in the world who is free-thinking. But he is extremely strong, a fantastic young man who aways tries to help, never to harm.
‘Obviously the fact he comes from small and impoverished country was not something big powerful people liked. They thought they had god-given powers that this world is their world and it is impossible that a young man from a small, poor country can be the best in their sport.’”
Djokovic’s mother also said that their son was subjected to “torture.”
It’s Not Over Yet
Unfortunately for Djokovic and tennis fans, their celebration may be premature. The immigration minister still has the authority to cancel his visa and deport him. It would be a remarkable escalation of the vaccination/anti-vaccination battle, but it is within the realm of his power.
But there’s a lot for the government to consider. When Djokovic was found to be skirting the vaccination rules, the public outcry was immediate and immense. People felt that he was being given special treatment due to his star status, and that he was being allowed to put people at risk – an example of how to flout the rules if you’re well-liked enough.
However, deporting him to prove a point and drive home a lesson would have ripple effects felt for years; for instance, Djokovic wouldn’t be able to return to Australia for 3 years. That would disqualify him from three years of world champion circuits.
It’s an enormous weight being measured by the Australian government today, but for now Djokovic has cause to celebrate.