Australian Open: draw paused – will Djokovic be expelled?

First the draw was postponed twice. Then Novak Djokovic was drawn. But it is still uncertain whether Djokovic will be allowed to stay in Australia.

Tennis star Novak Djokovic trains at Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne on Thursday.

Mark Baker / AP

The draw for the Australian Open has been postponed by half an hour, then by 75 minutes. There was no justification for the postponement. Then Novak Djokovic was drawn. He is supposed to compete against fellow countryman Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round. But whether he will be allowed to stay in Australia at all is still uncertain. The immigration minister is currently considering whether to revoke the number 1 visa in men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic, again. At a press conference scheduled at short notice at the same time, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to comment on the subject and referred to his immigration minister, Alex Hawke. Djokovic trained with young Australian tennis players and the Argentine tennis player Federico Coria in Melbourne on Thursday morning. He looked focused and fit.

Meanwhile, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and his team examined numerous new documents submitted by Djokovic’s lawyers. The investigation could further delay the minister’s decision. It is even possible that the minister’s decision will drag on until next week. According to many commentators, Djokovic could even be expelled after the first matches. But it is unlikely that the Australian government will risk having Djokovic removed from the tennis court by black uniformed border police in front of the cameras.

Under Australian law, it is at the discretion of the Immigration Secretary to revoke a visa if the presence of the visa holder in Australia creates or could pose a risk to the health, safety or public order of the Australian community.

Djokovic had a message on Thursday morning, Australian time posted on Instagram. In it he repeated again that the wrong information on his entry form was an oversight. He also emphasized his “greatest respect” for the Australian government and the Australian authorities.

Political tightrope walk

For the government, the decision is a political tightrope walk. On the one hand, Djokovic’s actions violate the pronounced sense of justice of many Australians. They had endured numerous lockdowns and strict travel restrictions with astonishing discipline over the past nearly two years and had themselves vaccinated at record speed to protect themselves and their fellow citizens against the virus. They managed to keep the number of serious illnesses and deaths to a minimum.

The government now has to be asked not only why they deported Djokovic, but why he ever received an entry permit – if even Australian citizens are not allowed to enter their homeland without a full vaccination. There are only medical exceptions in the event of an allergic reaction to the vaccination or if a serious illness prevents the vaccination. A Covid 19 disease that has subsided is not considered a reason for an exemption.

The preferred treatment of a star does not go down well with Australians. The Australian government’s harsh entry policy, especially against asylum seekers who are considered illegally entered without a valid visa, is popular. And in a few months there will be elections – in the middle of a huge corona wave, which many voters attribute to a failure of their federal government.

However, the Australian government must also consider the future of the country as an organizer of major sporting events in making its decision. The sport-crazy Australians look forward to the Australian Open every year. But now there are already doubts among athletes and sports associations as to whether Australia, with its strict entry regulations and constantly changing corona restrictions, will continue to be a good destination for tennis professionals.

In 2022 and 2023, athletes from all over the world will also come to the Basketball World Championships and the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Many participants will come from countries where the vaccination rate is much lower than in Australia, which is over 90 percent. Many of them do not want to reveal their vaccination status. The prospect of being locked up in a border agency quarantine hotel could deter them from attending events in Australia – especially if, like Djokovic, they don’t have millions to hire a legal team or to face a potential defeat in court to pay the high legal fees.

Djokovic got caught up in contradictions

After the court decision in his favor on Monday, Djokovic got entangled in numerous contradictions about his alleged Covid illness in December 2021 and apologized for false information in his entry documents to Australia. There he had stated that he had not been traveling from Spain in the two weeks before entering Australia. Pictures in social networks showed him on December 25th in Serbia.

Incorrect information on an entry document is a criminal offense in Australia. This is clearly indicated in the documents. Djokovic apologized for this on Instagram on Tuesday and blamed the error of a member of his support team for the false information. But under Australian law, the person for whom the entry documents are intended is responsible for all information – i.e. Djokovic.

A report in “Spiegel” also casts doubt on Djokovic’s information about the time of his alleged Covid illness. An examination of the QR code showed two different results of his PCR test – one negative and one positive. But Djokovic referred to a Covid disease on December 16 in his application for a medical exemption to enter Australia as an unvaccinated person. This is shown by the documents presented in his court case.

After this appointment, however, Djokovic had attended events and a photo appointment with a French sports magazine. That could cause him problems in Serbia because, according to Serbian law, he should have been in quarantine after a positive test. Djokovic threatens hardship in Spain too. Spanish media reports that the Spanish government is investigating whether the unvaccinated tennis star entered Spain illegally at the end of December.

Most Australians now believe that Djokovic sneaked his entry. In their eyes, it doesn’t help Djokovic either that extreme anti-Vaxxers, opponents of any vaccination in Australia, have stood behind him and praised him as their hero – including a well-known right-wing extremist group.

Bad prospects for Tennis Australia

For the organizer Tennis Australia, the saga of special permits for Djokovic and a handful of other tennis stars and their companions is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. The Czech Renata Voracova, who also entered the Australian Open with a special permit and whose visa was canceled after a week, is now also going to court. She is claiming back her travel expenses and financial damage from the expulsion from Tennis Australia.

And now the audience numbers for the Australian Open have also been reduced. Because of the omicron wave in Australia, the number of tickets that can be sold to tennis fans has been cut in half. All spectators must wear masks.

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