UPDATE – MELBOURNE, Jan 16 (Reuters) – Tennis star Novak Djokovic boarded a plane bound for Dubai on Sunday evening, a Reuters journalist said, after the Australian Federal Court upheld the government’s cancellation of his visa in a drama over his decision not to be vaccinated against coronavirus.
The player was seen boarding an Emirates flight from Melbourne just hours after the court ruling.
Earlier – Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic said in a statement on Sunday that he was “extremely disappointed” with the decision to cancel his visa to enter Australia, but would respect it and cooperate with the authorities in relation to his departure from the country.
The Serbian champion said he hoped the focus would now return to tennis and the Australian Open Grand Slam, which starts in Melbourne on Monday.
Novak Djokovic to be deported after Federal Court upholds government visa cancellation
After Sunday’s hearing, a full court under Chief Justice James Allsop announced the unanimimous decision by the three judges.
The government had argued Djokovic’s ongoing presence in Australia may lead to an increase in anti-vaccination sentiment generated in the Australian community, potentially leading to an increase in civil unrest of the kind previously experienced in Australia with rallies and protests.
Djokovic’s legal team countered by arguing the minister hadn’t taken into proper account that deporting him could fuel disruptive behaviour.
But Stephen Lloyd, legal counsel for the government, said,
Obviously the minister was aware his decision to cancel would result in some level of further unrest. But the minister was no doubt principally concerned […] that Mr. Djokovic’s presence would encourage people to emulate his position and that would put the health of Australians at risk.
The deportation will be politically popular. A poll published in the Nine papers at the weekend found 71% of Australians believed he should not be allowed to stay and play in the Australian Open, which starts on Monday. Djokovic had been due to play against a fellow Serb on Monday evening.
But it will further infuriate Serbia. In a four-minute video titled “Support for Novak Djokovic and response to the Prime Minister of Australia”, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said: “Is all this necessary to win the elections and please your public?”
If you wanted to forbid Novak Djokovic to win the [Australian Open] trophy for the 10th time, why didn’t you return him immediately, why didn’t you tell him that it was impossible to get a visa?
The government had lost the initial decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa when it had to concede in the Federal Circuit Court a week ago that he had not been accorded procedural fairness.
The tennis star’s interview by Border Force had lasted several hours in the early morning of January 6, but given the time, he had not had an opportunity to contact advisers.
Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, had obtained a medical exemption from COVID vaccination on the grounds he had contracted COVID in December. The exemption was granted through a process run by Tennis Australia and the Victorian government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison initially suggested the issue was a matter for the Victorian government. “They have provided him with an exemption to come into Australia, and so then we act in accordance with that decision,” he said.
But he then quickly changed his line after a big public backlash, distinguishing the issue of the exemption from that of visas, which are exclusively the federal government’s responsibility.
Hawke acted under the extremely wide discretionary power accorded to the immigration minister to act in individual cases.
In announcing the decision, Allsop said the case had not involved an appeal against the government’s decision but an application for the court to review that decision’s “lawfulness or legality” – whether it was irrational or legally unreasonable.
He said it was not the court’s function to decide on the merits or the wisdom of the decision. The judges will give their reasons at a later date.
Labor shadow health minister Mark Butler said at the weekend:
This has been an embarrassing soap opera of Scott Morrison’s making. If Mr. Djokovic did not satisfy the entry test to come into Australia, he should not have been granted a visa way back in November.
Djokovic, who was taken back into detention after Hawke’s Friday decision, followed the court proceedings from his lawyers’ offices.
Reaction to Australia court upholding cancellation of Djokovic’s visa
Following are reactions to the Australian federal court upholding a government decision to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa, ending the Serbian’s bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Jan. 17-30 Australian Open.
FRENCH TENNIS PLAYER ALIZE CORNET ON TWITTER
“I know too little to judge the situation. What I know is that Novak is always the first one to stand for the players. But none of us stood for him. Be strong @DjokerNole”
AUSTRALIAN SENATOR NICK MCKIM ON TWITTER
“Djokovic gets deported to resume his privileged life. Meanwhile people who have been found to be genuine refugees continue to languish in Australian prisons after nine years of exile, murder, abuse and brutal dehumanisation. We must remove the Minister’s god-like powers. Now.”
FORMER AUSTRALIAN TENNIS PLAYER RENNAE STUBBS ON TWITTER
“It’s official. The 9 time defending champion will be deported from Australia. This is a sad sad day for tennis, Australia, the Australian Open and obviously for @DjokerNole. I honestly cannot believe it’s come to this….”
TENNIS WRITER BEN ROTHENBERG ON TWITTER
“(Periodic and important reminder that Djokovic could have avoided all this rigamarole by simply getting vaccinated like 97per cent+ of his tennis player peers have.)”
(Compiled by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Tom Hogue)
Earlier – Australian federal court upholds cancellation of Djokovic’s Australian visa
SYDNEY (Reuters) – An Australian court upheld a government decision to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa on Sunday, ending the unvaccinated tennis superstar’s hopes of winning the Australian Open and racking up a record-breaking 21 men’s Grand Slam titles.
Ruling on a case that has gripped Australia and the sporting world for more than a week, a three-judge bench of the Federal Court heard government lawyers arguments that Djokovic’s continued presence risked whipping up anti-vaccination sentiment during Australia’s worst outbreak of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
A medical exemption that allowed the Serbian tennis world number one to enter the country without being vaccinated had sparked fury in Australia, and became a political issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has to call a federal election before May.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Tom Hogue)
Photo Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic (C) departs from the Park Hotel government detention facility before attending a court hearing at his lawyers office in Melbourne, Australia, 16 January 2022. Novak Djokovic still faces uncertainty as to whether he can compete in the Australian Open, despite being announced in the tournament draw. EPA-EFE/JAMES ROSS