Tennis star Djokovic vows to stay in Australia to compete after winning court battle

Tennis star Novak Djokovic said on Monday he plans to stay in Australia to “try to compete” at the Australian Open after winning an appeal against a decision to cancel his visa due to his vaccination status against Covid-19.

In a ruling on Monday morning, Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly ordered that Djokovic be released from immigration detention and his visa reinstated.

However, the saga – which has become a flashpoint in the larger debate over vaccine mandates – may not be over as Australia’s Immigration Minister questions whether he should use his power. staff to cancel the athlete’s visa again.

“I am happy and grateful that the judge overturned the cancellation of my visa. Despite everything that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete. @Australian Open“, said Djokovic, 34, in a Tweeter.

“I stay focused on that. I flew here to play one of the most important events that we have in front of amazing fans,” he said.

“So far I can’t say more but THANKS everyone for being by my side during all of this and for encouraging me to stay strong,” he said in a second tweet.

The Serbian tennis star made the comments as his family held a press conference in support of him and said he had already returned to the training ground to prepare for the tournament later this month.

“We have come to celebrate the victory of our son, Novak. A boy who learned in his family not to tolerate lies, injustice and deception and always fought for justice, “Djokovic’s mother Dijana said at the event in the Serbian capital Belgrade.

She said her victory in court was “the biggest victory of her career, bigger than any of her Grand Slam tournaments”.

Djokovic’s brother Djordje said he believed his brother was fighting for “freedom of choice”.

The battle led by the world number 1 male came after the fury in Australia, which is battling a new wave of infections caused by the omicron variant, following Djokovic’s request for a vaccine exemption allowing him to participate in the tournament. of this month.

The tennis star received fierce support from his native Serbia and from protesters who expressed their support outside the hotel where he was detained over the weekend.

But while his fight became a rallying point for many opposed to restrictions on the unvaccinated, others saw the fury as the latest incident undermining the credentials of a great sportsman that has drawn frequent criticism for his behavior on and off the pitch.

However, the court order in Djokovic’s favor largely focused on how the government handled the cancellation of his visa.

In a virtual hearing on Monday morning, the judge noted that the decision was made by a delegate from the Home Secretary at 7.42 a.m. Thursday, even though Djokovic was told he would have more time to respond to the notification. that his visa was at risk of being canceled.

“If the applicant had had until 8:30 am, he could have consulted other people and explained to the delegate why his visa should not be canceled,” Kelly said, reading an agreement between the government and Djokovic’s lawyers.

At the press conference, Djordje Djokovic congratulated Kelly on his decision and said he admired the judge.

“I think it was very detailed,” he said of the decision. “It was very thorough and it was very neutral and I want to thank him.”

An earlier court order had allowed Djokovic to leave the Park Hotel where he was being held so that he could attend the virtual hearing with his legal team. Asanka Brendon Ratnayake / Reuters

The tennis star was hoping to defend her title in the first major tournament of the season, and her participation is possible again when she kicks off on January 17. But the government said the immigration minister could still use his personal power to cancel Djokovic’s visa again.

In a statement on Monday, a spokesperson for Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the minister was considering the move.

“Following today’s decision by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on procedural grounds, it remains at (Hawke’s) discretion to consider revoking Mr. Djokovic’s visa under his authority. staff cancellation under Section 133C (3) of the Migration Act, “the spokesman said, according to Reuters. “The Minister is currently reviewing the matter and the process is continuing. “

The saga started when Djokovic announced on Instagram last Tuesday that he had obtained “an exemption authorization” for the vaccination against Covid-19, which would allow him to fly to Australia to participate in the tournament.

While in the air, questions were asked about exactly how and why Djokovic obtained the apparent exemption amid the worsening epidemic situation in Australia. The total number of coronavirus infections in the country topped one million on Monday, more than half of which were recorded last week, Reuters reported.

Australian Covid-19 rules state that inbound travelers must have received two injections of an approved vaccine, or must have an exemption with a genuine medical reason to avoid quarantine. All Australian Open players, staff, officials and fans must also be fully immunized to enter the tournament site.

Australia had some of the toughest border restrictions in the world and didn’t start allowing some international travel until November.

Djokovic was detained at Melbourne Airport overnight after landing late Wednesday. In one interview with officials, he said he was not vaccinated against Covid-19 but obtained an exemption because he contracted – and recovered from – the virus in December.

There was a dispute over whether this was allowed, and authorities subsequently revoked Djokovic’s visa, saying he had failed to provide the appropriate evidence to meet Australia’s entry requirements. .

Members of the local Serbian community gather outside a government detention center in Melbourne on Sunday. William West / AFP – Getty Images

In one court filing ahead of Monday’s hearing, government lawyers said the Australian government had failed to give Djokovic assurances that the medical exemption would be accepted.

During the hearing, Kelly asked why the Home Affairs delegate had not agreed to Djokovic’s medical exemption, which was reviewed by two medical boards.

“The point I’m a little agitated about is, ‘What more could this man have done?’” The judge said.

If Hawke were to remove Djokovic from Australia, the tennis star would not be eligible to return to the country for three years. This decision could also be appealed.

Djokovic has won nine of his 20 majors at the Australian Open and shares the men’s record in most majors with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

The visa drama shook the tennis world and also created tensions between Serbia and Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott morrison spoke about Djokovic’s case and said Thursday that “no one is above the rules” and “there are no special cases”.

In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vučić gave his national support to Djokovic, saying in a post on Instagram that “all of Serbia is with him”.

At Monday’s press conference, Djokovic’s father Srdjan hailed his son as a “strong mental man” and accused those in power of thinking it was “impossible for a boy like him to to be the best in their bourgeois sport “. He didn’t say exactly who he was talking about.

Srdjan said his son received support “from Africa, the Far East and the Middle East, Russia, China, India and South America.”

“They are all Novak. Everyone sees him as the personification of (the) struggle for freedom, ”he said.

His fans in Australia, many draped in Serbian flags and wearing “Novak” T-shirts, had gathered outside the Melbourne hotel where Djokovic was kept under surveillance for several days pending his appeal hearing. The hotel is also used to house refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom have been there for years.

Djokovic’s mother said her son’s detention left her family with feelings of “sadness, hopelessness (and) disappointment”.

“There were times he didn’t even have a phone and we didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “We didn’t know if he was okay or if everything was okay for him. If he ate, if he was hungry. These are things that as a mother I cannot overcome and I think all mothers in the world will understand me.

Previously, the family had accused the Australian government of holding him “prisoner” at the hotel, but the country’s authorities dismissed the allegations and said the player was free to go Australia anytime.

Djokovic now hopes it won’t be until he has secured another victory – on the pitch rather than in one.

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