When Australian immigration officials denied Novak Djokovic’s medical exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement and terminated his visa, it sparked a maelstrom of logistical, political, and legal repercussions.
Before Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly upheld his appeal and ordered him released and his visa reinstated, the world’s top male tennis player spent four days in a Melbourne immigration detention hotel alongside asylum seekers and refugees.
Now, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke must decide whether to use his authority to overrule the judge’s order, which is a politically contentious choice.
But what has happened in the last several days, and what appears to be happening in the days leading up to the tennis tournament?
First and foremost, a higher standard of lodging. Djokovic was promptly released from Melbourne’s Park Hotel on Monday after the judge decided in his favour, and he joined his team in an exclusive condominium for the remainder of his stay in Australia.
Djokovic rushed to Melbourne Park, the site of the Australian Open, for a late-night training session. He also worked out on Tuesday, indicating that he is still focused on winning his 21st Grand Slam singles title.
On Wednesday, Hawke will make a decision on Djokovic’s destiny.
Another point of contention is whether Djokovic filled out his travel admission form incorrectly when he checked the box indicating he had not travelled in the 14 days leading up to his arrival in Australia on January 6. Djokovic did, in fact, travel to Spain to train during that time.
The most difficult point to decide is whether Djokovic has a viable claim to a medical exemption to enter Australia without having been vaccinated.
Tennis Australia, the state of Victoria, and the federal government all hold opposing viewpoints.
Djokovic has been cagey about his immunisation status before flying for Australia. He admitted he wasn’t when questioned by border police at Melbourne Airport early Thursday morning.
His request for a medical exemption from the requirement that all non-Australian immigrants be vaccinated was based on his assertion that he had tested positive for COVID-19 on December 16.
Tennis Australia and the Victorian government set up medical panels to grant Djokovic an exemption from vaccination in order for him to compete in the Australian Open. The lawyers for Djokovic maintained that he had every reason to expect the same criteria applied at the border.
Djokovic greeted the court’s verdict with enthusiasm. He only tweeted once throughout his four days in immigration custody, to thank his supporters for their support.
He tweeted again early Tuesday morning to express his gratitude for the court’s decision in his favour.
Djokovic’s recent positive test raises more questions. On December 16, he had a PCR test and received a positive result that night, although he was apparently seen in public for the next few days.
Djokovic arrived in Melbourne at a time when COVID-19 cases were at an all-time high. The Omicron strain was also causing an increase in numbers across Australia.
As Omicron instances began to rise, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s administration came under fire for loosening some virus restrictions and failing to make fast antigen tests freely available.
When Tennis Australia and the Victorian government upheld Djokovic’s request for a medical exemption, Morrison had little to say. However, when Djokovic’s visa was revoked, he was quick to take responsibility for the decision, feeling public acceptance.
“Rules are rules,” he tweeted, and he said it again in interviews the next day. It appeared at first to be a foregone conclusion in terms of political victory.
During the majority of the pandemic, Australia’s tight border controls separated families by prohibiting Australians living abroad from coming home.
Morrison could not accept the thought that one of the world’s most celebrated sportsmen and prominent vaccine sceptics would be treated differently at the border.