In Australia, one of the most high-profile sports scandals directly related to the pandemic is drawing to a close. After spending four days in isolation, the first racket of the world Serb Novak Djokovic judicially secured the return of the Australian visa, which was taken from him after arriving in Melbourne last Thursday due to the lack of a coronavirus vaccine. True, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke retains the legal authority to re-annul a tennis player’s visa, who would then be deprived of the right to visit Australia for three years. However, on Monday, such a scenario already looked unlikely. In any case, Djokovic has already had his first training session on the courts of Melbourne Park.
This story, which stands out for its extraordinary scenario, the status of the actors involved in it and the range of possible consequences, Rafael Nadal described on Monday with one suitable word – “circus”. There really was too much circus and outright stupidity in her. It is no coincidence that world public opinion has not yet formed a unified position on who is to blame for the fact that the prologue to the Australian Open was a dynamic plot that once again exposed the key problems of the modern pandemic world.
Objectively, it was impossible to develop such a position from the very beginning – a month ago, when it became obvious that Novak Djokovic, known for his skepticism towards universal vaccination, did not receive the coronavirus vaccine, which is a necessary condition for foreigners to cross the Australian border. And then, over the course of several weeks, the degree of non-publicity only increased. At first, the tennis world wondered if Djokovic would be allowed to play at the Australian Open. Then it became unclear what exactly the Australian authorities were guided by, giving the Serb the go-ahead to participate in the tournament. That is, of course, one could assume that we are talking about a medical exception, but only Djokovic himself could have made it public according to Australian laws. But he, announcing on January 4 on Instagram about his departure from Belgrade to the Green Continent through the UAE, did not write a single word on this topic. Nevertheless, the decision to admit Djokovic to the tournament passed through at least two instances – at the level of the state of Victoria, whose capital is Melbourne, and the federal one.
For about a day, Djokovic’s admission to his favorite Grand Slam tournament looked like almost the main victory of the anti-Axis in history. But then a powerful salvo from the heavy guns of the Melbourne border guards was fired in their ranks.
The fact is that while Djokovic was somewhere over the Indian Ocean, millions of Australians, tired of months of quarantine sessions, wondered why a great, but unvaccinated champion was flying to them. And Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that in the absence of evidence of the validity of the withdrawal from vaccination, the troublemaker will take the next flight home.
Landing on Wednesday at 23:30 at Tullamarine airport on the Emirates liner, Djokovic found himself not very welcome in his adored Australia. Border guards marinated the champion in a confined space for several hours and eventually canceled his visa, preventing him from contacting Tennis Australia representatives and his own lawyers. In the morning, waking up, Djokovic’s lawyers filed an appeal against this decision, but the consideration of their claim was scheduled only for last Monday. And the Serb was stuck for four days in the Park Hotel – a 4.5-star hotel that has been converted to accommodate expatriates seeking entry to Australia.
So far, the organizers of the Australian Open, who did not hide their interest in Djokovic’s performance at the tournament, as well as other sports institutions, including the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Association of Professional Tennis Players, have taken a wait-and-see attitude, citing that bribes from them are smooth in resolving this issue. , the scandal received a fresh impetus – a public one. Serbs all as one stood up for their hero.
It got to the point that the President of the country Aleksandr Vucic called the actions towards the famous compatriot “a kind of political bullying”, and the tennis player’s father Srdjan Djokovic, at a rally near the building of the People’s Assembly, proclaimed his son “the personification of freedom and everything human.”
Meanwhile, on Saturday, it became clear why Djokovic did not get vaccinated. Among the 11 arguments in defense of his client, listed by Djokovic’s lawyers, was an admission that he tested positive for coronavirus on December 16 in the absence of symptoms. So far, one can only guess why this could not have been reported from the very beginning. Perhaps because Djokovic did not even think about any quarantine. Journalists immediately recalled that on the same day he attended the presentation of a postage stamp issued in his honor, on December 17, in his own tennis center, he awarded leading young Serbian tennis players, and on December 18 he participated in the L’Equipe photo shoot and gave an interview to this publication. Moreover, during a conversation with a reporter, he denied that he had contracted the coronavirus.
Such controversies, of course, could not go unnoticed by Anthony Kelly, a judge in the Federal District Court, who opened the hearing on Monday with a slight delay due to technical problems with the broadcast on the Internet. However, Mr. Kelly paid the main attention not to the coronavirus nuances, which, in theory, looked the most significant, but rather to the procedural issue – what happened after Djokovic was detained at the night airport. “If you give me time for Tennis Australia to wake up, for my agent to wake up, I can contact them by phone and we will provide you with everything you need,” Djokovic asked the border guards, but they rushed and pressed on him. Here is what is said about this in the reasoning part of the court’s decision.
“On January 6, 2022, at 5:20 am, the applicant was told that he could give his comments in response to the notification of his intention to consider the cancellation of a visa in accordance with section 116 of the 1958 Migration Law until 8:30; instead, the applicant’s comments were requested at about 6:14 am; the decision to cancel the applicant’s visa was taken at 7:42; the applicant was thus denied the right to extend the consultations until 8:30; if the applicant received this opportunity, he could consult and provide additional explanations why his visa should not be canceled. “
As a result, the first deafening sensation of the Australian Open took place a week before the start of the tournament. Anthony Kelly ruled that Djokovic, who followed the hearings in his lawyers’ office, should come out of isolation with all documents within 30 minutes, and the legal costs would be borne by the Australian government. In Melbourne, on this occasion, even festivities of the Serbian community have already taken place. True, under the country’s laws, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke retains the authority to revoke the plaintiff’s visa. According to the Australian press, the final decision on this issue may be made as early as Tuesday. If it turns out to be negative for a Serb, he will not be able to enter the Green Continent for three years. Otherwise, Djokovic, who has already held his first training session in Melbourne Park, will start defending his last year’s title, and at the same time the title of the first racket of the world, which Daniil Medvedev claims.
Despite the ambiguous attitude towards Djokovic’s position on vaccination, several well-known tennis players spoke in favor of the court’s decision at once: the same Rafael Nadal and his compatriot Feliciano Lopez, American John Isner, Croat Ivo Karlovic, former consultant of Serbia’s Davis Cup Niki Pilic and former Australian Open director Paul McNamy. And the mother of tennis player Diiana Djokovic, during an operational press conference on the Internet, said that, having won the trial, her son won the biggest victory in his life. Moreover, mass actions of the jubilant Serb community have already taken place on the streets of Melbourne. However, it is not yet clear how the rest of the Australians will meet their champion. After all, their attitude to vaccinations is markedly different from the Serbian, even despite the fact that the former Australian Prime Minister and Labor leader Kevin Rudd called the actions of the government of liberal Scott Morrison absolutely incompetent.