Novak Djokovic’s fans fight to get him out of hotel | Sunday Observer

Novak Djokovic’s fans fight to get him out of hotel

9 January, 2022

For months, activists have gathered outside a rundown hotel in central Melbourne, calling for the dozens of refugees held inside to be freed.

But on Friday, a different group of protesters had an unusual detainee in their sights: tennis world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who is confined to the hotel as he mounts a legal challenge to the revocation of his visa ahead of the Australian Open.

“Free Novac [sic],” read one protester’s handwritten sign stuck to a tennis racket. “Let Novac play.”

Australian Open organisers said Tuesday that Djokovic -- who has previously criticised Covid-19 vaccine mandates -- was granted a “medical exemption” from the requirement that international travellers must be fully vaccinated to enter the country.

But Djokovic arrived in Australia this week to find his visa revoked, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying the 34-year-old Serb “didn’t have a valid medical exemption.”

Tennis Australia was advised in a letter as far back as November 2021 that unvaccinated players with a recent Covid-19 infection would not be allowed to enter the country based on public health guidelines, Morrison told reporters on Thursday.

Djokovic’s legal team have won an urgent injunction against the decision, but it remains unclear whether the defending Australian Open men’s singles champion will be able to compete in the tournament, which starts on January 17.

Djokovic’s lawyers are appealing his visa cancellation and did not wish to comment ahead of his court hearing tomorrow.

People hold placards outside the Park Hotel where 20-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic is staying in Melbourne on January 7, 2022.

His case has gone far beyond an individual visa issue. It’s prompted anger from people who feel the rich and powerful are getting an easy ride when it comes to Australia’s tough Covid-19 rules, which have seen families separated for years -- but it’s also angered anti-vaxxers who believe coronavirus restrictions are encroaching on their civil liberties.

And it’s prompted concerns from Australia’s Serbian community, some of whom say Djokovic is being unfairly targeted.

But Djokovic’s situation has also highlighted the plight of asylum seekers in Australia. While the tennis star will ultimately either be allowed to play in the tournament or forced to leave the country, other detainees in the same facility have been locked up for years -- and face indefinite detention under Australia’s tough immigration rules.

As dozens of protesters from disparate groups of the political spectrum gathered outside the Park Hotel on Friday, there was one thing that united them: the push for freedom.

Some were from Serbian cultural groups, singing and waving the Balkan country’s flag, who saw Djokovic’s detention as a great injustice against one of the world’s biggest sports stars.

“I don’t see why he should be stuck in a detention center,” said Tara, a 17-year-old Australian-Serb and junior tennis player, who did not give a last name.

“Everyone has their own freedom of choice, vaccinated or not.”

Djokovic, who is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on a record 20 men’s grand slam singles titles, has not publicly revealed his vaccination status but voiced opposition to Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates in April 2020.

Others used Djokovic’s plight as an opportunity to criticise how vaccine mandates had curtailed civil liberties.

One woman -- who gave her name only as Matty for privacy reasons -- said if Djokovic went home, she wouldn’t watch the Australian Open.

“I used to go every year -- I can’t this year because of the vaccine mandates,” said Matty, who added she is unvaccinated.

Another masked person, who declined to speak to CNN, held a sign declaring Djokovic a “hostage of the communist state.”

But others focused their attention on the approximately 30 refugees held in the hotel.

Previously used by the Australian Government as a Covid-19 quarantine facility, the hotel has been an Alternative Place of Detention (APOD) for refugees and asylum seekers for at least a year. Nearly a decade ago, Australia said no asylum seekers who arrived by boat would ever be settled in the country. -BBC