The status of Novak Djokovic’s visa is: canceled, once again. This puts us exactly where we began just over a week ago, when the defending Australian Open champ arrived in Melbourne for this year’s tournament and was detained on the grounds that he didn’t have the correct visa to enter the country without being vaccinated. The days since have seen Serbian-Australian protestors awakened to the plight of Australian refugees, QR code sleuthing around Djokovic’s COVID-19 history, Djokovic’s release from detention as ordered by an Australian federal judge, and Djokovic remaining in Thursday’s delayed Australian Open draw. But on Friday afternoon in Australia, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cited “the public interest” and canceled Djokovic’s visa again, setting into motion another legal battle whose myriad hearings and delays could torpedo Djokovic’s hopes of playing when the Australian Open begins Monday. Djokovic is appealing the decision a second time; he won his first appeal on a procedural technicality.
These hearings, I’m sorry to report, are quite dry. By all indications, the people participating in Djokovic’s latest “directions hearing” (a kind of hearing to go over next steps with a judge) at 6:00 p.m. their time on a Friday were not enjoying themselves any more than the people groggily watching it at 5:00 a.m. their time on a Friday. You’d think a story as exciting as this one might elicit a livelier performance from Judge Kelly. But no! He seemed to possess little sense of humor; instead, he was mostly concerned with “jurisdiction” and the filing of various forms. Djokovic’s lawyers showed some flashes of personality, if never quite enough to sustain the whole thing. They did hold one advantage over Judge Kelly, in that I generally understood what they were saying at any given time and did not find myself quickly tuning out their droning. Also, there was someone else in the bottom right quadrant of the screen—Mr. Lloyd?—but I didn’t catch whose side he was on.
Some of his supporters have argued that Djokovic is caught in a controversy that doesn’t have much to do with him. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is up for re-election this spring, and Djokovic makes for a decent celebrity punching bag. “Mr. Djokovic isn’t always a sympathetic character. And with an election on the way by May, Mr. Morrison was returning to a well-tested tactic: stirring voter support with appeals to tough border enforcement,” The New York Times wrote, in a story outlining the politics at play. You can certainly read Hawke’s decision through a rah-rah lens. “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison’s press statement following the second visa cancellation reads. But posturing or not, the statement is true: Why hold the Australian public to some higher standard than this guy? And it’s hard to argue Djokovic has been subject to uniquely harsh treatment while he has his case heard specially on a Friday evening to accommodate the looming tournament start.
As Djokovic’s lawyers told it in the hearing, Hawke worried that allowing Djokovic to remain in the country could inflame anti-vax sentiment. The lawyers’ counter-argument was that this grave injustice done unto Djokovic might also inflame anti-vax sentiment. Both sides have already found some common ground, then: Anti-vaxxers are silly and easily inflamed.
I will remain glued to this controversy, however temporally inconvenient it is. Now I sit back and root for the most interesting outcome. I guess that would be for him to play in the Australian Open, advance to the final, and then be deported before it begins.