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Monday, August 8, 2022

A judge has ruled that Novak Djokovic may remain in Australia

Following his release from immigration detention on Monday, Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic moved one step closer to competing for his record 21st Grand Slam title after an Australian judge ordered his release from the country’s immigration detention centre, bringing a five-day saga over his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to a close.

Following Djokovic’s arrival at Melbourne International Airport for the Australian Open, where he had been authorised to compete due to a vaccine exemption, the judge, Anthony Kelly, determined that the Serbian had been treated unjustly. In the wake of arresting Djokovic, border officials claimed that he would be allowed to talk with tournament organisers and his attorneys early on Thursday morning, only to revoke his visa before he had an opportunity to speak with them.

Djokovic, 34, has triumphed on the tennis court several times when he looked to be in no position to do so, as all great players must do. A humiliating loss occurred once when he was disqualified after accidentally smashing a ball into the neck of a line judge while out of rage. He has also had embarrassing defeats in other tournaments.

The triumph on Monday, on the other hand, was unlike anything he had ever experienced before. An overnight crew of border officials, with the assistance of an Australian prime minister, attempted to impose the will of millions of residents who normally despise “queue jumpers” who try to bypass the rules, rather than a competitor aiming to snuff out his chance at a championship.

Australians have raced to comply with vaccination demands, and they have faced lockdowns and border closures as a result. Many people have little patience for a celebrity who is well-known for preaching pseudoscience and who, in the opinion of some, received preferential treatment by securing a vaccine exemption during Australia’s greatest outbreak of the virus.

When faced with adversity, Djokovic’s stubbornness to back down has served him well throughout his career, which has seen him establish himself as a rival to two modern tennis luminaries, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. In this particular instance, it motivated him to continue fighting when authorities ordered him to leave a nation with some of the tightest border enforcement measures in the world, and with an election only months away.

The approach initially backfired, resulting in his spending several days in isolation in an immigration detention facility. It is now expected to become part of the convoluted legacy of one of the game’s greatest champions, a player who was much more feared than adored during his time on the field.

Djokovic has indicated on several times that he is opposed to vaccine mandates, stating that vaccination is a private and personal choice. His original authorisation for entry into Australia was based on what his attorneys said was an illness he had in mid-December, which resulted in his being excused from immunisation requirements.

In his opening remarks at Monday’s hearing, Kelly, the no-nonsense judge supervising Djokovic’s appeal, expressed sympathy for the Serbian. A transcript of the tennis player’s encounter with border authorities at the airport was examined by the judge, who noted that the player had been “incommunicado” from 4 a.m., when he complied with an order to switch off his telephone, until the time of his arrest.

A medical exemption from a physician had been included in Djokovic’s visa application, according to the court, and had been backed by an independent panel created by the state government of Victoria, which contains Melbourne, in support of the application.

At the hearing, the federal government’s attorneys argued that Djokovic may be refused admission if he posed a threat to public health. Djokovic was not present for the hearing. There are no guarantees for travellers to Australia upon arrival, and all are subject to further border procedures, the government stated in court files. The government also contended that previous Covid-19 infections were no longer a viable basis to delay inoculation against the virus.

However, it is still unclear if or when Djokovic was genuinely unwell, according to reports. On December 16, the day he said he had tested positive, he appeared at a public event that was aired live on the internet. After that, he appeared at a junior players’ awards ceremony in which photos revealed him to be without a mask, which was later confirmed.

One thing that is evident, even to many Australians who believe that the laws should be enforced fairly to everyone, is that they are humiliated by the whole situation. While Australia’s admission procedure for the tournament has been marked by uncertainty, dysfunction, and political point-scoring, the country’s overseas travel in general has been blighted by an amalgam of ineptitude and Covid-era messiness.

By that moment, his arrest had already morphed into a political controversy. Australian governments have a long history of winning elections by talking tough about border enforcement, despite the country’s brutal treatment of asylum seekers, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has followed a script that has become predictable in recent months.

In response to requests for comment, neither the Prime Minister’s office nor Tennis Australia responded within minutes of receiving them. Even though Djokovic remained off camera during the hearing, Judge Kelly required that he be freed within 30 minutes after the decision, which was made at 5:16 p.m.

He cautioned the government’s attorneys that another effort to deny Djokovic’s visa may be expensive, both for Djokovic and for the rest of the tennis community.

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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