Novak Djokovic Is Awaiting His Australian Open Fate As Serbian President Gets Involved And Legal Battle Continues

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Jan 6, 2022 04:20 PM +05:30 IST
Novak Djokovic Is Awaiting His Australian Open Fate As Serbian President Gets Involved And Legal Battle Continues Novak Djokovic (wikimedia commons)
  • In the past 24 hours, Twitter trends have gone from “NovaxDjokovic” to “WeStandWithNovak”.

    Djokovic's post about “medical exemption” ahead of the Australian Open provoked a backlash among Australians.

    He was detained for several hours in Melbourn airport before border officials revealed that he had broken entrance restrictions and would be deported.

In the past 24 hours Twitter trends have gone from “NovaxDjokovic” to “WeStandWithNovak”, from expressing anger towards the World No.1 tennis ace Novak Djokovic to supporting him and slamming Australian authorities after his visa was cancelled for failing to meet strict entry requirements.

All of this started after Djokovic posted on his social media handles about “medical exemption” ahead of the Australian Open which will begin on 17 January and tournament organisers made an announcement about it which provoked a backlash among Australians.

Reasons allowed for anyone applying for this exemption can include an acute major medical issue, serious adverse reaction to a previous dose of a Covid-19 jab or evidence of coronavirus infection within the past six months.

It was in June 2020, when Djokovic tested positive for coronavirus, almost 20 months ago. The tennis star has been openly sceptical of vaccines and against vaccine mandates, but he has also refused to confirm his vaccination status.

So when it was revealed that the 20-times Grand Slam winner was about to participate in the Australian Open using the medical exemption, people started questioning this decision calling it ‘special treatment’.

Even British tennis star and former men’s doubles World No. 1 Jammy Murray said: “I think if it was me that wasn’t vaccinated, I wouldn’t be getting an exemption. You know, but well done to him for getting clear to come to Australia and compete.”

Meanwhile, Tennis Australia's chief executive, Craig Tiley, stated that players requesting an exemption had to pass muster with two committees of medical specialists. To guarantee privacy, personal information was redacted during the procedure.

He said: “Fair and independent protocols were established for assessing medical exemption applications that will enable us to ensure Australian Open 2022 is safe and enjoyable for everyone. Central to this process was that the decisions were made by independent medical experts and that every applicant was given due consideration.”

In a television appearance on 5 January, Tiley stated that 26 players had sought for an exemption and that only "a handful" had been granted. He claimed that 99 per cent of the almost 3,000 individuals who travelled to Australia for the competition were vaccinated. The few people who were given an exemption had a medical condition or had been exposed to Covid-19 in the previous six months.

But Australian health officials cautioned late last year that a recent infection would not be enough to get entrance.

Australian tennis great Rod Laver also shared his point of view while saying that Djokovic owes everyone an explanation. The tennis legend said: “If he's got a reason for (the exemption) then... we should know it. Yes, you're a great player and you've performed and won so many tournaments, so, it can't be physical. So what is the problem?”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison initially said the decision was an issue for the government of Victoria, whose capital is Melbourne. He said that they have given Djokovic permission to visit Australia and we must operate in accordance with that permission.

Morrison then clarified that even if Djokovic is unvaccinated, he must present sufficient proof to warrant the medical exemption when he arrives. He told the media that if that evidence isn't enough, he won't be treated any differently than anyone else and Djokovic will be on the next plane home.

Diplomatic And Legal Battle

Djokovic, after his arrival, was detained for several hours in Melbourn airport before border officials revealed that he had broken entrance restrictions and would be deported.

After that, he was transferred to a government detention hotel. His lawyers have filed an urgent court appeal.

Tennis Australia said two independent medical panels had granted him a medical exemption, but border officials stated he had "failed to provide appropriate evidence" for entry landing from Dubai on 5 January,

Australian Border Force (ABF) said in a statement: "Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia."

Meanwhile, Srdjan Djokovic, Djokovic's father, said on 5 January that his son was confined in an airport room guarded by police and added that "this is not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world." He also then threatened taking protests to the streets if the tennis star was not released "in half an hour".

The situation got more complicated and took a nationalistic/diplomatic turn after Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić got involved. He posted on Instagram saying: “(As translated) I just finished a phone conversation with Novak Djokovic. I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our authorities are taking all measures to stop the harassment of the best tennis player in the world in the shortest possible period.”

“In accordance with all norms of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic, for justice and truth. By the way, Novak is strong, as we all know him,” he added.

According to reports, Vučić had also summoned Australia's ambassador in Belgrade and requested that Djokovic be allowed to compete immediately.

Meanwhile, Australian PM Morrison confirmed that Serbian embassy diplomats in Canberra had made formal objections to Australia over Djokovic's deportation due to his failure to meet vaccine exemption standards. He said that even though he understood the Serbian government’s position, but the rules “apply to all those who enter”.

Like President Vučić, many Serbian and other Djokovic fans said on social media that their beloved tennis star was harassed at the airport. But Morrison rejected the harassment suggestion and said: “Australia has sovereign borders and clear rules that are non-discriminatory as so many countries do … it has to do with the fair and reasonable application of Australia’s border protection laws … all I can say is that the evidence medical exemption that was provided was found to be insufficient.”

At the same time, according to reports, several refugee advocates and anti-vaxxers, many of them holding the Serbia national flag, gathered outside the hotel where Djokovic is staying. A couple came to show their support for the tennis star, yelled “free Novak” and said that “we came to support the number one. It’s ridiculous, he’s got an exemption, why not let him in?”

When one of them was asked about his vaccination choice, the supporter said, “It’s a private matter. Do I ask if you have AIDS? It’s private,” while a woman draped in a Serbian flag, said Djokovic deserved “respect”.

A steady stream of Djokovic supporters from Australia's Serbian population arrived to express their support. They sang Serbian songs, danced, and images, as well as videos of the scene, have been shared on social media.

Meanwhile, Spanish legend Rafael Nadal suggested that Djokovic had to accept the consequences of his apparent choice to not get vaccinated. Given the prolonged lockdowns and people's inability to return to Australia, Nadal believes it is "natural" for Australians to be unhappy about the matter.

According to the latest reports, Djokovic's attorneys were successful in their attempt to prevent him from being deported on 6 January, and a full hearing in federal circuit court has been set for 10 January involving the player and the Home Affairs Minister. Over the weekend, the parties are expected to submit evidence and submissions.

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