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 A man takes a selfie with Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic
Djokovic stops for a selfie after landing back in Belgrade — he'd hoped to play his first match of the Australian Open on Monday nightImage: Christopher Pike/REUTERS
HealthAustralia

Djokovic returns to Serbia after Australia deportation

January 17, 2022

The Serbian tennis star has arrived home after an Australian court upheld a visa cancellation. Authorities said that his decision not to be vaccinated against coronavirus posed a risk to the Australian public.

https://p.dw.com/p/45b4f

Djokovic to miss Australian Open after visa verdict

Novak Djokovic arrived back home in Serbia on Monday after a row over his decision to not get vaccinated against COVID-19 prompted Australian authorities to cancel his visa.

His return to Serbia comes after Australia's Federal Court ruled against the tennis star's last-ditch appeal against a deportation order on the eve of the Australian Open. 

After departing Melbourne on Sunday evening, Djokovic had a brief stopover in Dubai before continuing his journey to the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

In a statement released after the court's decision, Djokovic had said he was " extremely disappointed by the ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the ... decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open." 

Djokovic has won the Australian Open nine times and was hoping to achieve a record 21st major title.

However, his visa was canceled after arriving in Australia, as he has not been vaccinated against coronavirus. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed Sunday's ruling, saying in a statement the decision will help "keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe."

"It's now time to get on with the Australian Open and get back to enjoying tennis over the summer," Morrison said. 

Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic listen to the court hearing at the offices of his legal team
Supporters of the Serbian tennis star have followed the saga closely, with the country's President Aleksandar Vucic saying that "he is always welcome in Serbia"Image: LOREN ELLIOTT/REUTERS

Tennis association laments 'loss for the game'

The ATP Tour said that Djokovic's visa cancelation marked the end of what it called a "deeply regrettable series of events."

In a statement released on Twitter, the association said that matters of public health had to be respected, and that lessons needed to be be learned.

"Irrespective of how this point has been reached, Novak is one of our sport's greatest champions and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for the game," it added.

The ATP also said that it continued to strongly recommend vaccination for all tennis players.

Family and Serbian president defiant

In Serbia, Djokovic’s father Srdjan rallied hundreds of fans and at one point said his son had been "crucified," much like Jesus. 

"We believe he will come out of this situation stronger and that the time will show what he has been proving beyond any doubt so far, that he is a great champion and a man," the family said Sunday, adding that the ruling had been influenced by "politics and a lot of other interests." 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the hearing had been "a farce with a lot of lies."

"They think that they humiliated Djokovic with this 10-day harassment, and they actually humiliated themselves. If you said that the one who was not vaccinated has no right to enter, Novak would not come or would be vaccinated," Vucic told reporters.

Vucic added that he has spoken to Djokovic and told him: "We can't wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome."

Serbia reacts to Djokovic's deportation

Djokovic visa saga

Djokovic had been seeking to overturn Immigration Minister Alex Hawke's decision to cancel his visa for a second time. 

His visa was initially canceled on January 6 at Melbourne airport hours after he arrived, when authorities decided that Djokovic didn't qualify for a medical exemption from Australia's rules for unvaccinated visitors.

However, a circuit court overruled the decision.

Immigration Minister Hawke then canceled the visa again on the grounds that Djokovic's presence in Australia could pose a risk to public health and "good order," while being "counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others in Australia.''

The REAL Novak Djokovic

What did the court say Sunday?

Chief Justice Allsop said Sunday that the court had reviewed the lawfulness of Hawke's decision and ruled that Djokovic's "amended application be dismissed with costs."

Djokovic spent Saturday night in an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne, but was allowed to leave on Sunday to meet with his legal team, under the watch of immigration officials.

Hawke's lawyers had earlier argued that Djokovic is a "talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment."

"The minister took the view that his presence in Australia would encourage people to emulate his apparent disregard for ... safety measures,'' lawyer Stephen Lloyd said.

The tennis star's lawyer's argued that there was no evidence to suggest Djokovic would "foster anti-vaccination sentiment."

Lawyer Nick Wood said that deporting the star could stir up anti-vaccine sentiment.

Djokovic has not been vaccinated against COVID-19 and said his medical exemption was based on testing positive for the virus in December. 

The move caused outrage among many Australians, who have endured some of the world's most stringent anti-COVID measures.

rs, kb/wmr (Reuters, AP)

Outrage over Djokovic's vaccine exemption

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