By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
Controversial world No. 1 male tennis player Novak Djokovic got his wish in setting foot in Australia and was already included in the 2022 Australian Open main draw schedule.
But the Australian government pulled another surprise when it cancelled the Serbian tennis star’s visa despite the decision of Federal Circuit Judge Anthony Kelly to release him from detention.
Reuters reported that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used discretionary powers to again cancel Djokovic’s visa, after a court quashed an earlier revocation and released him from immigration detention on Monday.
“Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” Hawke said in a statement.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion was ready to compete in his first tournament for 2022. He was set to take on his compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of the tournament on Jan 17, 2022 and has already entered his name into the tournament’s final participating players.
Initially, the Victoria government, the state where the Grand Slam tournament will be held, already made the decision to prohibit unvaccinated people, may it be professional athletes, from entering their premises.
“I would just say though, you know, just get vaccinated. That’s what I’ve said to every single Victorian, that’s what I’ve done, that’s what my kids have done, that’s what families, 93% of our community has done that, and I’m very proud of them for doing it, I’m very grateful,” said Victoria state’s premier Daniel Andrews.
The government “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hawke said.
He said he had “carefully considered” information from Djokovic, the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force.
Under the section of the Migration Act which the minister used to exercise his power to cancel the visa, Djokovic would not be able to secure a visa to come to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances that affect Australia’s interest.
The saga has intensified global debate over rights of choice for vaccines, raised questions over Australia’s bungled handling of Djokovic’s visa and become a tricky issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he campaigns for re-election.
The tennis star, a vaccine skeptic, fueled widespread anger in Australia when he announced last week he was heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open with a medical exemption to requirements for visitors to be inoculated against COVID-19.
Australia has endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns, has a 90% vaccination rate among adults, and has seen a runaway Omicron outbreak bring nearly a million cases in the last two weeks.
On his arrival, Australian Border Force officials decided his exemption was invalid and he was held alongside asylum-seekers at an immigration detention hotel for several days.
A court on Monday allowed him to stay on the grounds that officials had been “unreasonable” in the way they handled his interview in a seven-hour process in the middle of the night.
Djokovic’s cause was not helped by a mistake in his entry declaration relating to overseas travel in the prior two weeks, which he attributed to his agent. He also acknowledged he should have rescheduled an interview and photoshoot for a French newspaper on Dec. 18 while infected with COVID-19.
An online poll by the News Corp media group found that 83% favoured the government trying to deport the tennis star.
“Absolutely, he should go. He hasn’t done the right thing and is being a bit cheeky about it,” said Venus Virgin Tomarz, 45, who lives in Melbourne. (With a report from Reuters)