Men's world number-one tennis player Novak Djokovic had his visa application revoked by the Australian government a second time due to his being unvaccinated against COVID-19. The Serbian tennis star now faces deportation once again and will be unable to defend his title at the 2022 Australian Open unless he can win a last-minute appeal.
The Guardian reported that Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday used his ministerial discretion to revoke Djokovic's visa on public interest grounds, saying his presence at the tournament could "excite anti-vaccination sentiment."
In a statement, the minister reportedly said he canceled the visa "on health and good order grounds, [and] on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so." He added that Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government "is firmly committed to protecting Australia's borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic."
The order was given just three days prior to the grand slam tournament, which Djokovic has won a record nine times. Its close proximity to the first match makes it unlikely that the tennis player will be able to compete.
Immediately following the order, Djokovic’s attorney, Nicholas Wood, proposed a hearing to consider overturning the cancellation. He argued there was "no rational basis" for the conclusion and noted that Hawke’s reasoning was "radically different" from the reason for the first cancellation.
Last week, Djokovic was stopped at the Australian border and held in a room guarded by police after landing in Melbourne en route to the tournament grounds at Melbourne Park.
Though unvaccinated, he had been granted a vaccine exemption by Tennis Australia, the country's governing body for the sport, allowing him to compete. The exemption was also approved by the Victoria state government. But the national government and the Australian Border Force essentially overruled the exemption and refused to sponsor his visa.
According to ESPN, Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before a judge overturned the ruling and ordered his release. That same judge, Anthony Kelly, will reportedly preside over the new appeal, but Djokovic's fate remains uncertain.
The sports outlet said Djokovic will remain free Friday night but will have to return to immigration detention when he meets with Australian Border Force officials Saturday morning. It also noted that deportation from Australia can lead to a three-year ban from the country, though that ban can be waived in certain circumstances.
In response to the news, Prime Minister Morrison praised his immigration minister's actions, citing the suffering that Australians have had to endure throughout the pandemic and the lengths they have gone to in order to slow the virus' spread.
"This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods. ... Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected," Morrison reportedly said in a statement. "This is what the Minister is doing in taking this action today."
Everyone at the Australian Open — including players, staff, and spectators — is required to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or have an approved exemption. Acceptable reasons for receiving an exemption are acute major medical conditions, serious adverse reaction to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, or evidence of a COVID-19 infection within the past six months.
There has been much speculation over the reason for Djokovic's exemption, though many believe it to be infection within the previous six months. That has not been confirmed, however.