Melbourne – Novak Djokovic will be placed back in detention by Australian authorities on Saturday after his visa was revoked for a second time.
Immigration minister Alex Hawke announced the decision to revoke the tennis star’s visa in a statement on Friday after days of deliberation about whether to eject the 34-year-old Serbian from Australia.
The world’s top-ranked male tennis player’s hopes of contesting the Australian Open and win a record 21st grand slam are now hanging by a thread as his legal team fights to keep him in the country.
Djokovic’s case to stay in Australia will be heard on Saturday before the country’s Federal Court following an emergency hearing before judge Anthony Kelly in the Federal Circuit and Family Court on Friday. Australia’s federal court is a higher body than the court Kelly presided over.
“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,” said Hawke in a statement earlier on Friday.
“In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force (ABF) and Mr Djokovic. The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The decision comes four days after judge Kelly ruled that Australian Border Force (ABF) officers had been “unreasonable” when they canceled his initial visa to enter Australia on his arrival in the country on January 5. The judge ordered Djokovic be freed from immigration detention within 30 minutes.
The second cancellation is the latest twist in a saga that has garnered global headlines and put Australia’s Covid and immigration policies under scrutiny.
Under current Australian laws, all international arrivals are required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 — which Djokovic is not — unless they have a medical exemption.
Djokovic said he was under the impression he could enter because two independent panels associated with Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government had granted him an exemption on the grounds that he had been infected with Covid-19 in December.
The federal government argued that, under its rules, previous infection with Covid-19 is not a valid reason for an exemption.
Despite Monday’s ruling, the immigration minister retained ministerial power to personally intervene in the case and ultimately had the final say as to whether Djokovic would be allowed to stay, though his decision can be appealed.
In his ruling, the judge noted that if Djokovic had been deported, he would have been banned from Australia for three years. However this can be waived in special circumstances.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the minister’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa protected “sacrifices” Australian had made throughout the pandemic.
In a statement, Morrison said the “pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods.”
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” he said. “This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today.”
Djokovic to be detained
Djokovic will be interviewed by the ABF at 8 a.m. local time on Saturday (Friday 4 p.m. ET) at an undisclosed location “agreed between the parties” in the case.
At that point, Djokovic will be officially detained by two border force officials and escorted to his lawyers’ office while his case is heard in the federal court.
The location where Djokovic will be met by border officials will remain secret in order to keep the tennis star safe and prevent “a media circus.”
“We have a genuine concern about security and a potential media circus,” Djokovic’s barrister Nick Wood told the court when imploring Judge Kelly to allow Djokovic to be handed over to border officials in private.
Novak Djokovic v Minister for Immigration, as the case file is known, was officially transferred from the Federal Circuit Court to the Federal Court of Australia on Friday.
Wood told the federal circuit court that Hawke had used his personal power to cancel Djokovic’s visa based on grounds he would “excite anti-vax sentiment” should he remain in Australia, describing it as a “radically different approach” in the government’s argument.
How it came to this
Djokovic arrived in Melbourne on January 5 and promptly had his visa canceled for entering the country without a valid reason why he couldn’t be vaccinated against Covid-19.
He spent several nights in a detention hotel in Melbourne, which also houses dozens of refugees — some of whom have been held in immigration detention for more than eight years.
His lawyers challenged the decision and won the legal battle on Monday, but since then questions have emerged over Djokovic’s behavior after testing positive for Covid-19 on December 16.
In a statement published to social media on Wednesday, Djokovic acknowledged he did not immediately isolate after receiving a positive diagnosis — but denied knowing he had the virus when attending several public events.
He also apologized for apparently false information on his Australia visa declaration, specifically that he hadn’t traveled in the 14 days before his arrival in the country. Photos taken during that period appear to show him in both Spain and Serbia.
Djokovic said a member of his support staff submitted the information and the omission had been “human error.”
In the statement, Djokovic also admitted doing an interview and photo shoot with a French sports newspaper while Covid positive, which he conceded was an “error of judgment.”
The visa dispute and decision whether to allow Djokovic — who has previously voiced opposition to Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates — into the country comes at a time when Covid-19 case numbers are soaring.
On Friday, the state of Victoria — home to Melbourne where the Australian Open is being held — reported 34,836 cases, with a record 976 people hospitalized with Covid-19. This week the country surpassed one million cases over the entire pandemic.
What could come next
Maria Jockel, legal principal of BDO Migration Services, said Djokovic’s lawyers will have 28 days to make representations to the minister, stating why he should reverse his decision.
Despite his visa being canceled once again, experts say it is still possible Djokovic could be released on another visa to contest the Australian Open.
“If there’s an incredible outcry about having the world’s No. 1 tennis player in detention whilst the Australian Open is on, maybe the government would relent and let him out on a bridging visa,” said Abul Rizvi, a former deputy secretary with the immigration department.
A bridging visa would allow Djokovic to work — or, in this case, play — but the political repercussions of that decision are unclear as it would seem to contradict the message that Djokovic poses a health risk to the Australian people.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said earlier Friday the issue had a simple solution: “Just get vaccinated.”
“That is the key … That’s what I say to every single Victorian. That’s what I’ve done. That’s what my kids have done,” he said, adding the Australian Open was bigger than one player and the issue far bigger than one person.