Novak Djokovic secured a Covid-19 vaccine exemption from Tennis Australia and the Australian government because he had tested positive for the virus in December, which should have qualified him for entry into the country, his lawyers argued Saturday.
“The date of the first positive Covid PCR test was recorded on 16 December 2021,” his legal team said in a 32-page submission ahead of a federal court hearing Monday to appeal the decision to cancel the Serbian star’s visa.
The federation reported in a statement that Djokovic had handed over cups and prizes to the best young players. No one was wearing a mask.
On Saturday, his lawyers claimed that Australian border agents held Djokovic for eight hours at Melbourne airport, mostly incommunicado, before cancelling his visa and sending him to a detention centre.
But after a border official initially agreed, his superiors successfully pressured Djokovic to allow them to take an immediate decision on his visa, the lawyers said.
Foreigners are still mostly banned from travel to Australia, and those granted entry must be fully vaccinated or have a medical exemption.
Although Djokovic has won a legal reprieve from deportation, it is unclear whether he will be able to play in the January 17-30 Australian Open.
In an internal video leaked Saturday, Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley said his organisation had done “everything they possibly could”.
A second tennis player who was headed to the tournament — Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova — had her visa cancelled after initially being allowed into the country, her government has confirmed.
– ‘Making a stand’ –
Djokovic, an outspoken vaccine sceptic, has thanked fans around the world for their support on Instagram: “I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated.”
There was also support for Djokovic at an anti-vaccine rally attended by hundreds of people in another part of the city.
“Novak is making a stand and it’s a worldwide opportunity for him to say something about vaccination status and how ridiculous it is.”
As much of the country tightened restrictions to battle an Omicron-fuelled wave, the state of Victoria, where Melbourne is the capital, posted a daily record of 51,356 cases Saturday.
Nobody is allowed in or out except staff.
Djokovic’s family have said the hotel is “dirty”.
“Djokovic is not a criminal, terrorist or illegal migrant, but was treated that way by the Australian authorities, which causes an understandable indignation of his fans and citizens of Serbia,” the foreign ministry said.
“Rules are rules,” he said.
“The tail won’t be wagging the dog here,” he said.