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Tennis

Novak Djokovic Is Loose In Australia, For Now

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during the Davis Cup semi final against Marin Cilic of Croatia at Madrid Arena on December 03, 2021 in Madrid, Spain.
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic is back on the tennis court in Melbourne after an Australian federal judge ruled on Monday that he be released from immigration detention and have his visa reinstated. The Serb had been held in a hotel since last week, when federal authorities at the airport argued that he did not provide the proper documentation to justify his vaccine exemption. Djokovic tweeted Monday that he intends to play in the Australian Open, but his participation remains in some doubt as Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, still has the power to cancel Djokovic’s visa and deport him for not complying with Australia’s vaccine protocols.

Djokovic has refused to say why he isn’t vaccinated but according to a transcript released by the court today, and which was published in part by The Age, he thought he was able to claim a medical exemption because he had contracted COVID-19 in December. According to the transcript, around 4 a.m. local time last Thursday an interviewer at the airport told Djokovic that previous infection is not considered a medical contraindication in Australia. Djokovic responded with confusion:

“I really don’t understand how come in your system you don’t have the information that if you have encountered Covid and been positive on Covid in the last six months and have the sufficient amount of antibodies and a negative test which I all provided, you are granted to access the country.

“I am really confused – because this is what I have been getting from official Tennis Australia and Victorian government medical panels for the last three weeks and four weeks.”

The interviewer responded by explaining that the rules of the regional government and Tennis Australia are not the rules of the Australian federal government: “So, and that’s what I have been trying to explain to you. Like, you know I mean it’s fine if that’s what they’ve said, but coming to Australia, like it’s a federal thing. Federal government controls the ports.”

Australia has regularly enforced strict COVID-19 protocols in order to protect citizens from the virus, especially amid transmission peaks. The country reached 1 million cases this week.

Ultimately, the judge ruled in Djokovic’s favor on something of a technicality, saying that the immigration officials hadn’t given Djokovic enough time to submit additional documentation. In a virtual hearing, which was open to the public and variously disrupted by pranksters who hijacked the stream to play music and porn, the judge said that the decision to cancel the visa was made at 7:42 a.m., but Djokovic had been told he had until 8:30 a.m. to consult others about the visa situation.

Djokovic supporters cheered the ruling, and Djokovic’s parents—his father compared him to Jesus and Spartacus last week—continued to say normal things about their son’s choice to refuse a safe and effective vaccine that could help protect those around him:

“We have come to celebrate the victory of our son, Novak. A boy who learned in his family not to tolerate lies, injustice and deception and always fought for justice,” Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, said at a protest event in Belgrade. She also said that the court ruling was the “biggest victory in his career, bigger than all his grand slams.”

The celebrations could be premature, though, as a spokesperson for the immigration minister, Hawke, said Monday that deportation is still on the table.

“Following today’s Federal Circuit and Family Court determination on a procedural ground, it remains within [Hawke’s] discretion to consider cancelling Mr Djokovic’s visa under his personal power of cancellation within section 133C(3) of the Migration Act,” the spokesman said, according to Reuters. “The Minister is currently considering the matter and the process remains ongoing.”

The Australian Open starts next Monday.