MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for a second time, the latest twist in the ongoing saga over whether the No. 1 tennis player will be allowed to play at the Australian Open despite them are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Immigration Secretary Alex Hawke said on Friday he had, at ministerial discretion, canceled the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on grounds of public interest – just three days before the start of play at the Australian Open, where Djokovic has won nine of his 20 Grand Slam titles.
Djokovic’s lawyers were expected to appeal to the Federal Circuit and Family Court, which they successfully did last week on procedural grounds after his visa was first canceled when he landed at a Melbourne airport.
Deportation from Australia usually results in a three-year return ban. That would make Djokovic 37 the next time he is allowed to compete at the Australian Open.
Hawke said he canceled the visa for “health and public order reasons because it is in the public interest”. In his statement, he added that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government is “firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Hailing Djokovic’s impending deportation, Morrison said Australia has one of the lowest pandemic death rates, the strongest economy and the highest vaccination rates in the world.
“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods. … Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic and they rightly expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said in a statement. “That is what the Minister is doing today by taking these measures.”
Everyone at the Australian Open – including players, their support teams and spectators – must be vaccinated against the disease caused by the coronavirus. Djokovic is unvaccinated and had applied for a medical exemption because he contracted COVID-19 in December.
This exemption was approved by the Victorian State Government and Tennis Australia and appears to have allowed him to obtain a travel visa. But the Australian Border Force refused the exception and canceled his visa when he landed in Melbourne on January 5.
Djokovic spent four nights in a hotel for immigration detention before a judge overturned that decision on Monday. That decision allowed Djokovic to roam freely around Australia and he has been training at Melbourne Park in preparation for taking part in a tournament he has won in each of the last three years.
Djokovic has been holding training sessions every day since his release from custody and posted a photo of himself with his team at Rod Laver Arena on social media late Monday.
He had booked a scheduled afternoon practice session at the tournament’s main venue for Friday, but changed his times to start and finish early.
The media began to gather at the vehicle entrance to the building where Djokovic was reportedly meeting with his lawyers after the minister’s decision was made.
With his legal situation still in limbo, Djokovic was included in Thursday’s draw in the tournament group, where he was set to face Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round in an all-Serbia matchup.
Melbourne-based immigration lawyer Kian Bone said Djokovic’s lawyers face an “extremely difficult” task in getting court orders over the weekend to allow their client to play next week.
Hours before announcing Hawke’s decision, Bone said: “If you leave later than he has now, I think strategically he’s really crippling Djokovic’s legal team in terms of the type of options or remedies he’s given could .”
Djokovic’s attorneys would have to go before an acting Federal Circuit and Family Court judge or a senior federal court judge to receive two urgent orders. One order would be an injunction preventing his deportation, which was won in court last week. The second would force Hawke to grant Djokovic a visa to play.
“This second order is almost unprecedented,” said Bone. “Very rarely do the courts order a member of the executive branch to be granted a visa.”
Jacqui Lambie, an influential independent senator, argued that Djokovic should be sent home if he had broken Australia’s vaccination rules. But hours before the visa cancellation was announced, she complained about how long it took Hawke to make a decision.
“Why does this keep dripping out of the faucet? Alex Hawke, where are you? asked Lambie.
“If you can’t make a decision about Novak Djokovic, my goodness, how do you rule the country? This is an absolute mess,” she added.