Australia gov’t lawyers say Novak Djokovic was not assured entry

Gov’t court filing contests tennis star’s claim he was assured entry to Australia with a medical exemption from COVID vaccine requirements.

Tennis player Novak Djokovic reacts during a match
Djokovic has been confined in a hotel room after being stopped on arrival at Melbourne airport [File: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters]

The Australian government has hit back hard at tennis player Novak Djokovic’s assertion that he was assured entry with a medical exemption from coronavirus vaccine requirements, pointing out in court papers that no foreigner has a guaranteed right to enter the country.

“There is no such thing as an assurance of entry by a non-citizen into Australia. Rather, there are criteria and conditions for entry, and reasons for refusal or cancellation of a visa,” the government said in a filing on Sunday before a court hearing on the case on Monday.

Djokovic, the world men’s number one, is hoping to win his 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, which starts in Melbourne on January 17. But instead of training, the Serbian player has been confined in a hotel used for asylum seekers and is challenging the decision to cancel his visa after being stopped on arrival at Melbourne Airport early on Thursday.

The Serb, a vocal opponent of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, said in a filing to the court on Saturday that he had been granted an exemption from vaccination due to having tested positive for COVID-19 in December.

His lawyers said he had the necessary permissions to enter Australia, including an assessment from the Department of Home Affairs that responses on his travel declaration form indicated he met the conditions for quarantine-free arrival. The government disputed this.

It said the department’s email was not an assurance “that his so-called ‘medical exemption‘ would be accepted”, and his responses could be questioned and verified on his arrival.

The government also challenged Djokovic’s claim for a medical exemption on the basis he had contracted COVID-19 in mid-December and had recovered two weeks later.

“There is no suggestion that the applicant had ‘acute major medical illness’ in December 2021. All he has said is that he tested positive for COVID-19. This is not the same,” the filing said.

French newspaper L’Equipe published a photograph of the player taken when he was named the daily’s Champion of Champions in the days after he said in the court filing he had tested positive for coronavirus on December 16. Other photographs published on social media showed him appearing at functions in Serbia on dates soon after that test.

It was not clear if Djokovic knew of his positive test at the time of the events shown in the pictures.

Djokovic, 34, has won the Australian Open nine times and the drama over his refused entry has caused a furore in sporting circles, sparked tensions between Serbia and Australia and become a flashpoint for opponents of vaccine mandates around the world.

He also has 20 Grand Slam singles titles, a men’s record he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Djokovic’s lawyers will have up to two hours to present their case from 10am on Monday (23:00 GMT on Sunday), while the government department gets two hours to present its defence from 3pm (04:00 GMT). The case is being heard by the Federal Circuit and Family Court.

‘No respect’

The government filing stressed that even if the court ruled to free Djokovic from detention and let him play in the Australian Open, under Australian law the government had every right to detain him again and remove him from the country because he is a non-citizen.

That drew particular ire from Djokovic’s father, who addressed another small protest in front of Serbia’s parliament building in Belgrade on Sunday where hundreds of fans have been protesting, claiming their vaccine-sceptic idol has been treated unfairly.

“The politicians are now saying that even if the court decided that he can play, they can detain him again under their laws,” Srdjan Djokovic said.

“Are we animals? What are we? We’re human beings. This is happening because we are just a small part of the world, but we are proud. They have no respect for him.”

Djokovic’s brother, Djordje, told demonstrators that he wishes to see him soon on the tennis court.

Australia says its health department notified tournament organising body Tennis Australia in November that a recent COVID-19 infection was not necessarily grounds for exemption in the country, as it is elsewhere.

However, Djokovic’s lawsuit says the Department of Home Affairs wrote to him this month to say he had satisfied the requirements to enter the country.

Source: News Agencies