After uproar across the state of Victoria and its capital city Melbourne, world #1 tennis player Novak Djokovic has been held up with a cancelled Visa – dashing his hopes of an Aussie Open victory down under.
The story unfolded earlier this Tuesday, when the Serb posted a message to his fans on Instagram:
View this post on Instagram
“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022,” Djokovic said. This was followed by a public statement from the Australia Open authorities, who confirmed that the tennis star’s situation was exempt:
Here’s a statement from the #AusOpen which confirms that Djokovic got a medical exemption. pic.twitter.com/WPDGmrzuJR
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 4, 2022
Everything seemed fine – hungry to meet the competition, Djokovic touched down from an Emirates flight from Dubai to Melbourne, at around 11PM AEST this Wednesday. What followed was a harrowing 8-hour detainment, instant controversy on tennis Twitter, and police forces standing guard between Djokovic and the outside world.
As of now, Djoker is currently sitting in a nondescript Melbourne quarantine hotel, sharing floors with incoming refugees while two guards stand outside his door. How did this end up happening?
What Led To The Visa Cancellation?
To start with, it’s important to establish Djokovic’s actual stance on vaccinations – which is skeptical, to say the least. While he hasn’t made any public statements regarding his vaccination status, the Serb has gone on record as far back as April 2020 – stating that he was opposed to vaccination requirements for travel.
According to Tennis Australia, the organization that attempted to handle Djokovic’s exemption, all was fine. Djokovic’s case had been cleared by ‘two separate independent panels of medical experts.’ In the end, Tennis Australia seems to have botched their application when it came to verifying Djokovic’s documents – resulting in an ‘urgent review’ by the Commonwealth.
While the Australian federal government appealed to the state authorities of Victoria to let Djokovic go, sentiments in Melbourne were largely mixed. With over 65,000 daily cases on the day of Djokovic’s ill-advised flight, several citizens called out the player for setting a bad example, while authorities argued that no exemptions were allowed – not even for the world’s greatest tennis player.
Finally, the last blow came in from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison:
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 2022
How Will Djokovic Deal With This?
Djokovic and his team have not taken the whole fiasco lying down. Instead, his lawyers are currently scrambling to fight the authorities, arguing that the procedure was botched and that their client was being singled out – 14 other players have gotten medical exemptions without incident.
Djokovic stands to gain a lot from participating in the Aussie Open this year. Not only has the prize money risen to $54.2 million – if Djokovic wins this Open, he will be the first player in men’s tennis history to win 21 career grand slams.
According to Australia’s 9News network, Djokovic will continue to be held at the quarantine hospital or at government facilities, as his legal appeal proceeds.
Meanwhile, Serbia – for whom Djokovic is a national hero, is in uproar:
Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s president, has just spoken to Djokovic, still being held in a room at Melbourne Airport. ‘I told him Serbia is with him. Our authorities are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately.’
— Oliver Brown (@oliverbrown_tel) January 5, 2022
Aside from the Serbian government, Djokovic’s father Srdan has spoken to local news broadcasters, claiming that his son was denied phone access, detained for several hours, and even kept under police guard.
“Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter,” he told B92. “In front of the room are two policemen. I have no idea what’s going on, they’re holding my son captive for five hours,” he said. “This is not a fight for the libertarian world, this is not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world. If they don’t let him go, we will gather on the street, this is a fight for everybody.”
The Australian Open is scheduled to begin on the 17th of January.
(Image Sources: Bleacher Report)