Novak Djokovic deported from Australia after failed visa appeal

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Novak Djokovic has been deported from Australia after failing to reverse the decision to revoke his visa.

Chief Justice James Allsop’s verdict came following a unanimous decision by the three judges hearing the case in the Federal Court of Australia on Sunday.

The move means nine-time champion Djokovic will not defend his Australian Open title, which begins on Monday, and is banned from Australia for three years – although that could be overturned.

Djokovic had the option of trying to take the legal fight further, but said in a statement that he would cooperate with the deportation despite being “extremely disappointed” with the decision.

Having already spent five nights at the Park Detention Hotel, he wasted no time getting out of the country and was pictured with Australian Border Force officials at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport before boarding a flight Emirates to Dubai which departed at 10:30 p.m.

He said: “I would like to make a brief statement to address the results of today’s hearing. I will now take some time to rest and recuperate, before making any further comments beyond that.

“I am extremely disappointed with the decision to dismiss my application for judicial review of the Minister’s decision to cancel my visa which means I cannot stay in Australia and compete in the Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic was arrested a second time on Saturday and taken to the Park Hotel (Channel 9/AP)

“I respect the court’s decision and will cooperate with the relevant authorities regarding my departure from the country.

“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the last few weeks has been on me and I hope we can all now focus on the game and the tournament that I love. I would like to wish the players, the tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.

“Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength for me.

The three judges deliberated for just over two hours before Chief Justice Allsop delivered the verdict just before 6pm in Melbourne after hearing submissions from both sides earlier in the day.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke canceled Djokovic’s visa on Friday using personal credentials after the world number one won an appeal against the initial decision to bar him from the country when he arrived last week.

Novak Djokovic's supporters listen to the decision outside his lawyer's office
Novak Djokovic supporters listen to the ruling outside his lawyer’s office (Mark Baker/AP)

Djokovic was due to face compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday but was substituted in the draw by lucky Italian loser Salvatore Caruso.

Hawke’s decision on Friday was unexpectedly based not on the validity or otherwise of Djokovic’s exemption from the Covid-19 vaccination, which was the reason for the original cancellation, but on the notion that his presence in the country could stoke anti-vaccination sentiment, making him a public health hazard, as well as civil unrest.

To succeed on appeal, Djokovic’s legal team had to prove that Hawke acted outside of his powers or that his decision was irrational, and Chief Justice Allsop was keen to point out that the judges were unable to assess the merits of the case.

Nick Wood, acting for the Serb, focused on three aspects – that there was no evidence his presence would fuel anti-vaccination sentiment, that there was also a lack of evidence for the idea that Djokovic opposes vaccination and that Hawke had not considered expelling the nine-time Australian Open champion would lead to increased support for the anti-vaccination cause.

Wood said: “Not a single source of evidence in the material has provided any specific or logical basis that Mr Djokovic’s mere presence in Australia in itself could in any way foster anti-vaccination sentiment.”

Hawke was represented by attorney Stephen Lloyd, who spent his brief outlining why the minister’s decision was rational.

On whether it was fair to portray Djokovic as taking an anti-vaccination stance, Lloyd said: “His pending non-vaccination status suggests that someone in the claimant’s position could have been vaccinated if she had wanted it.

“Even before vaccines became available, he was against it – his prima facie position was to be against them.”

Hundreds of Djokovic supporters protested his initial detention
Hundreds of Djokovic supporters protested his initial detention (Hamish Blair/AP)

He referenced anti-vaccination groups “treating the claimant like a hero” as he moved on to Hawke’s central claim that Djokovic’s presence could negatively impact public health.

Lloyd said: “He’s a top person who is in many ways a role model for a lot of people. His presence in Australia would present his anti-vaccination views more strongly to Australians.

“People use top athletes to promote ideas and causes all the time. His connection to a cause, whether he likes it or not, is always present.

The case made headlines around the world and caused a political storm in Australia and Serbia.

Both Hawke and Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the verdict, with Morrison saying: “I welcome the decision to keep our borders strong and protect Australians.

“Strong borders are fundamental to the Australian way of life, as is the rule of law. Our government has always understood this and is ready to take the decisions and actions necessary to protect the integrity of our borders.

The reaction was very different in Serbia, where President Aleksandar Vucic said in a statement reported by Novosti: “I spoke to Novak some time ago and encouraged him and told him that I had can’t wait for him to come to Serbia and come back. in his country and to be where he is always welcome.

“They think they humiliated Djokovic, but they humiliated themselves, and he can go back to his country and look everyone in the eye with his head held high.”

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic defended Novak Djokovic
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic defended Novak Djokovic (Hannah McKay/PA)

The saga leaves many questions for Tennis Australia, which has pushed for exemptions to be available for players in Djokovic’s position despite widespread public opposition.

In a brief statement, the organization said: “Tennis Australia respects the decision of the Federal Court. We look forward to a competitive and exciting Australian Open 2022 and wish all players well.

The ATP were louder, describing what unfolded over the past week and a half as a “deeply regrettable series of events” and said Djokovic’s absence was “a loss to the game”.

“We know how hectic Novak has been over the past few days and how badly he wanted to defend his title in Melbourne,” the governing body said.

“We wish him the best of luck and look forward to seeing him back on court soon. The ATP continues to strongly recommend vaccination for all players.

It remains to be seen where Djokovic will play next, with Australia far from the only country where he risks facing travel problems if he continues to refuse the vaccine.

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