Novak Djokovic’s appeal against visa cancellation moves to higher court

MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic was reportedly back in immigration detention on Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid being deported from Australia for not being vaccinated against COVID-19 was referred to a higher court.

A Federal Court hearing has been set for Sunday at 9:30 a.m. local time (5:30 p.m. EST Saturday), a day before the No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion was due to begin his defense of the title at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year.

Judge David O’Callaghan said on Saturday the court would liaise with all parties on whether the proceedings should be heard by a single judge or a full court later in the day.

Police closed a lane behind the building where Djokovic’s lawyers are based and two vehicles exited the building mid-afternoon local time on Saturday. In television footage, Djokovic could be seen wearing a face mask in the back of a vehicle near a migrant detention hotel.

The Australian Associated Press reported that Djokovic was back in custody. He spent four nights confined to a hotel near Melbourne city center before being released last Monday when he won a legal challenge on procedural grounds against his first visa cancellation.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke blocked the 34-year-old Serb’s visa, which was initially revoked when he landed at Melbourne Airport last week. But he was reinstated by a judge on Monday on procedural grounds because Djokovic was not allowed to have a lawyer with him at the airport.

Deportation from Australia can result in a three-year ban on returning to the country, although it can be lifted, depending on the circumstances.

Djokovic has a record nine Australian Open titles, including the last three in a row, part of his total of 20 Grand Slam championships. He is tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for most by a man in history.

Djokovic admitted that his travel declaration was incorrect as it did not state that he had been to multiple countries in the two weeks prior to his arrival in Australia.

In a social media post on Wednesday that was his most extensive public comments on the entire episode, Djokovic blamed his agent for checking the wrong box on the form, calling it “human error and certainly not deliberate. “.

In that same message, Djokovic said he had given an interview and a photo op with a French newspaper in Serbia despite knowing he had tested positive for COVID-19 two days earlier. Djokovic tried to use what he says was a positive test taken on December 16 to justify a medical exemption that would allow him to circumvent the vaccine requirement.

Hawke said he canceled the visa for “reasons of health and good order, on the grounds that it was in the public interest to do so”. His statement added that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The main ground of appeal against Hawke’s decision, according to the athlete’s lawyers, was that it was not based on the health risk Djokovic might pose by not being vaccinated, but on how which it could be perceived by anti-vaxxers.

Morrison himself hailed Djokovic’s impending expulsion. The whole episode struck a chord in Australia, particularly in the state of Victoria, where residents endured hundreds of days of lockdown at the worst of the pandemic and adult vaccination rates exceed 90. %.

Australia is facing a massive increase in virus cases caused by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron. On Friday, the country reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in Victoria state. Although many infected people are not getting as sick as in previous outbreaks, the outbreak continues to strain the healthcare system, with more than 4,400 people hospitalized. It also disrupts workplaces and supply chains.

“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stood together and saved lives and livelihoods. … Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect that the outcome of those sacrifices is protected,” Morrison said. . “That is what the minister is doing by taking this action today.”

Everyone at the Australian Open – including players, their support teams and spectators – must be vaccinated against the disease caused by the coronavirus. Djokovic is not vaccinated and had requested a medical exemption on the grounds that he says he tested positive for COVID-19 in December.

This exemption was approved by the Victorian state government and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa to travel. But Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa when he landed in the country on January 5.

Djokovic spent four nights in a migrant detention hotel before a judge overturned the decision. The move allowed Djokovic to move freely around Australia and he trained daily at Melbourne Park.

“It’s not a good situation for anyone,” said three-time Grand Slam champion and five-time Australian Open runner-up Andy Murray. “I just want this resolved. I think it would be good for everyone if it was. It just seems like it’s been dragging on for quite a long time now – not great for tennis, not great for the Open d ‘Australia, not great for Novak.”

Under Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to withdraw from the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev would take his place in the squad.

If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule is published, he will be replaced on the pitch by what is known as a ‘lucky loser’ – a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but enters the main draw because of of another player’s exit before the competition has started.

And if Djokovic plays in one match – or more – and is then told he can no longer play in the tournament, his next opponent will simply advance to the next round and there will be no substitution.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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