Legally speaking, Novak Djokovic has been in limbo for over 24 hours as the relative sovereignties of Tennis Australia and Australia (the country) are being untangled. Physically speaking, he’s been held in the not-quite-Australia of the Melbourne airport as well as an ominously named “immigration detention hotel” as the authorities try to figure out what to do with the winningest Australian Open player of all-time. The antivax cyborg and Serbian hero who can only be defeated by bread, gamers, and visa regulations would really like Australia to let him in despite his refusal to get vaccinated. This has become a big enough story that it’s sparked a protest movement, and the prime ministers of both countries have gotten involved.
Djokovic appealed his visa’s rejection shortly after being detained, and Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly granted an injunction that prevents Djokovic from being deported from the country until after his case is heard next Monday. Djokovic’s case hinges on the argument that he had COVID in the last six months and is therefore immune. The feds rejected that argument once already, and he faces a possible three-year ban from the country if the courts side against him.
The Australian Open starts in 11 days, so a two-week quarantine is probably not on the table as a compromise option. Tennis Australia is on Djokovic’s side here, since he is obviously good for business, but they may have inadvertently owned themselves in their attempt to spring Djokovic. Per the Age, Tennis Australia told the Border Force that at least two other unvaccinated Open participants (a player and a referee) were let into the country using the same exemption Djokovic has been trying to claim. Rather than giving a thumbs up and letting Djokovic in, the Border Force quickly announced that they would conduct an investigation and might send more people home. The Age also reported that the other two unvaccinated participants had way more support for their exemptions than Djokovic, who had just one doctor vouching for him.
All of this—the detention and the alleged hypocrisy—has made some Serbians very mad, none more so than Novak’s father Srdjan. The Djokovic family held a press conference to demand Novak’s freedom, and Srdjan said some incredible things about his antivax idiot son. He compared him to Jesus and Spartacus, and more or less called on every person in the world to join hands and destroy the Australian government in the name of freedom from tyranny or something. “My son is the new world’s Spartacus, who will not tolerate injustice, colonialism and hypocrisy,” Srdjan Djokovic said. “He is imprisoned but has never been freer. He has become the symbol and the leader of the free world, the leader of the world of the nations and [the leader of] poor and needy people.”
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he tried to get his Australian counterparts to move Djokovic from “that infamous hotel” to a nicer house. Vucic yelled at Australia’s ambassador to Serbia and said he also talked to Djokovic on the phone, saying in a statement on Wednesday, “I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately.” He spoke to the media one day later and heightened the rhetoric. “What is not fair play is the political witch hunt by everybody including the Australian Prime Minister pretending that the rules apply to all. I fear that this relentless political pursuit of Novak will continue until the moment they can prove something, because when you cannot defeat somebody then you turn to these type of things.”
A “Free Novak” protest movement has sprung up in both Belgrade and Melbourne. Srdjan led protestors in Serbia, while a few dozen flag-clad protestors gathered around his hotel.
The Park Hotel has also been used to house refugees and asylum seekers, sometimes for years. Australia has a particularly cruel policy towards refugees, keeping them in legal limbo for extraordinary periods and shipping many off to smaller islands. Around 50 asylum-seekers are currently being held, and their conditions are notoriously inhumane. Activists used the opportunity of Djokovic’s detention to draw attention to the people being held in the hotel for far longer than Djokovic. The two groups of protestors yelled at each other a bit, though a genuinely touching moment of radicalization happened as many pro-Djokovic protestors learned about the plight of the refugees and came together in asking for their release.
If solidarity with one of the most wackadoo men in tennis leads people to the righteous path of supporting human rights, that’s a pretty good silver lining to this mess. As for Djokovic, he’ll have to stay in the hotel through the weekend, giving Srdjan four more days to say stuff.