Novak Djokovic was arrested again in Australia on Saturday, after authorities tore up his visa for the second time and said the unvaccinated tennis superstar posed a threat to the public.
Court documents showed the 34-year-old Serb was currently being held at an address in Melbourne, while his appeal against deportation is heard.
Just two days before the start of the Australian Open, the world number one is again focused on the courts rather than center court in the latest twist in a high-profile row over his Covid-19 vaccine status .
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke now says Djokovic’s continued presence in the country could “foster anti-vaccination sentiment” and even trigger “increased civil unrest”.
Djokovic was summoned to appear before immigration authorities in Melbourne ahead of emergency Federal Court hearings on Saturday and Sunday.
He was allowed to follow court proceedings from an address – believed to be his lawyers’ office – in the custody of two Australian Border Force officers.
It is the second attempt by Australia’s Conservative government to evict Djokovic, one of the world’s most high-profile Covid-19 vaccine skeptics.
The 34-year-old Serb used a medical exemption to enter Australia earlier this month, hoping to challenge for a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Open.
Amid public outcry, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government revoked Djokovic’s visa upon his arrival.
Many Australians – who have endured prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions – believe Djokovic played the system to dodge vaccine entry requirements.
But the government was humiliated when a judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa and allowed him to stay in the country.
This time, the government invoked exceptional — and hard to contest — executive powers to declare him a threat to public health and safety.
The government argues that Djokovic’s presence is a threat to public health and order, especially as Australia suffers a tidal wave of Omicron infections.
Its continued presence in the country ‘could pose a health risk to the Australian community’ by boosting anti-vaccine sentiment and discouraging people from getting booster shots, Immigration Minister Hawke has argued, according to a court filing released Saturday.
Djokovic’s lawyers say the government “didn’t cite any evidence” to support their claims.
Minister admitted Djokovic was at ‘negligible’ risk of infecting Australians, but argued his past ‘disregard’ for Covid-19 regulations could pose a public health risk and encourage people to ignore the rules of the pandemic.
– ‘Health and good order’ –
The tennis ace contracted Covid-19 in mid-December and, by his own account, failed to self-isolate despite knowing he tested positive.
Public records show he attended a stamp unveiling, youth tennis event and gave a media interview around the time he was tested and confirmed to be infected.
In a statement, Hawke said the government was “strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic”, citing “health and good order reasons” for the decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa again.
The Minister said “it was in the public interest to do so”.
The government has agreed not to deport Djokovic until the end of the hearing, attorney Stephen Lloyd told a late-night emergency federal court session on Friday.
Djokovic is the top seed at the Australian Open and a nine-time winner of the tournament. He had trained just hours before Hawke’s decision was announced.
It’s unclear if Djokovic will choose to stay and defend the case if he thinks he’s unable to compete at the Australian Open.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday accused Australia of “mistreating” the country’s biggest star, and a national hero.
“If you wanted to ban Novak Djokovic from winning the 10th trophy in Melbourne, why didn’t you send him away immediately, why didn’t you tell him ‘it’s impossible to get a visa’?” Vucic said on Instagram.
“Novak, we are on your side!
– “In the public interest” –
Prime Minister Morrison backed the decision, saying: “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected.”
The cancellation of the visa effectively means that Djokovic would be banned from obtaining a new Australian visa for three years, except in exceptional circumstances, barring him from one of the four Grand Slam tournaments during this period.
He is currently tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles each.
Former world number one Andy Murray, who will play at the Open, said on Friday he hoped Djokovic’s status would be cleared up.
“It just seems like it’s been dragging on for quite a long time now and (it’s) not great for tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak,” Murray said.
Other players, including world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas, criticized Djokovic.
“For sure he played by his own rules,” Tsitsipas told Indian TV channel WION on Thursday.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)