Novak Djokovic

Unvaccinated Djokovic Loses Battle To Defend Title As Australian Court Upholds Visa Cancellation

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The world’s top-ranked tennis player, Novak Djokovic, has lost his bid to avoid deportation from Australia after the Federal Court rejected his appeal to stay in the country and defend his Australian Open title.

The verdict from Chief Justice James Allsop came following a unanimous decision from the three judges hearing the case in Melbourne on January 16. The judges upheld a decision made on January 14 by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.

The decision likely means that Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, will remain in detention in Melbourne until he is deported.

Earlier on January 16, Djokovic left a detention hotel and joined his lawyers for the hearing. His lawyers told the panel that the government’s effort to deport him on the eve of the Australian Open was “irrational” and “unreasonable.”

Djokovic’s challenge was moved to a higher court after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke blocked his visa, which was originally revoked when he landed at a Melbourne airport last week, touching off a saga that has angered the Serb government and many Serbians.

A judge on January 10 reinstated his visa on procedural grounds after it was revoked the first time, but Hawke on January 14 said that he was using his discretionary powers on visa issues to cancel Djokovic’s visa “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”

The minister said Djokovic’s continued presence in the country could “foster anti-vaccination sentiment” and even spark an “increase in civil unrest.”

Hawke admitted that Djokovic is at “negligible” risk of infecting Australians but argued his past “disregard” for COVID-19 regulations may pose a risk to public health and discourage people from getting boosters just as the country experiences an increase in omicron infections.

The player was granted a medical exemption on the grounds that he contracted COVID-19 in mid-December. But according to his own account, he failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.

Djokovic’s cause was not helped by a mistake on his entry declaration on which a box was ticked stating he had not traveled abroad in the two weeks before arriving in Australia. In fact, he had traveled between Spain and Serbia.

Some players have lamented that the controversy has overshadowed the buildup to the year’s first Grand Slam event.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and BBC

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