Was Djokovic’s deportation politically motivated? | Sunday Observer

Was Djokovic’s deportation politically motivated?

23 January, 2022

The most shocking news that swallowed the sports world recently was the visa cancellation and deportation of world’s No. 1, tennis player, 34-year-old Serbian Novak Djokovic, in Australia depriving him of participation in the Australian Open, one of the major tennis tournaments in the world.

Djokovic is among the one who rejected vaccination for Covid-19, and was tested positive with the virus in mid-December, 2021. But as he was infected within a six-month period, he was originally granted a medical exemption to enter Australia by two different independent health panels - one commissioned by Tennis Australia, the other by the state government of Victoria.

Then, on the pretext of public anger over entering the country without being vaccinated, the Australian Border Force detained him on January 5, followed by revoking his visa. Thereafter, Djokovic appealed against it, and the decision was overturned by the court on Monday, January 10. Several days later, Australian Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, stepped in to revoke the visa yet again.

His argument in the court was that Djokovic could encourage anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia. Djokovic’s legal team had argued in turn that deporting him could also stoke such sentiment.

However, the legal battle which lasted 10 days, ended on Sunday, January 16, when judges upheld the government’s decision, leaving Djokovic with no other option but to leave the country. So, on Sunday night he arrived at Melbourne Airport, and flew to Dubai airport by an Emirates flight, and then scheduled to travel to Serbia.

Because of his visa cancellation, he could be barred from entering Australia for the next three years under its laws, which means he wouldn’t be able to take part in next year’s Australian Open tennis tournament as well.

Australian Government’s response

Yet, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said to a local media that Djokovic could be allowed entry sooner under the “right circumstances.”

“The ban does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for them to return in the right circumstances and that would be considered at the time,” he said in an interview with the Australian radio station 2GB on Monday.

In his official statement the Prime Minister said that he welcomed the court’s decision “to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe,” adding that “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected.”

Morrison’s statement ends with this: “It’s now time to get on with the Australian Open and get back to enjoying tennis over the summer.”

The Immigration Minister of the government Alex Hawke’s view also similar to the PM:

“Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world.

“Strong border protection policies are also fundamental to safeguarding Australia’s social cohesion, which continues to strengthen despite the pandemic,” he added.

Australian Opposition’s views

However, an opposition spokesperson on the home affairs portfolio in Australia, Kristina Keneally, said Djokovic was being deported for what he said and did publicly overseas before the government gave him a visa in November.

“This mess isn’t a failure of our laws. It’s a failure of Morrison’s competence & leadership,” Keneally tweeted.

The pandemic response has become politically charged as Morrison’s conservative coalition seeks a fourth three-year term at elections due by May. And the infection rates have soared across much of Australia since December, when Morrison’s government relaxed what had been some of the democratic world’s toughest restrictions on international travel, according to foreign media.

Serbian’s Point of View

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was very disappointed and angry about the behaviour of the Australian government over the tennis star’s case. President Vucic said the hearing was “a farce with a lot of lies.”

“They think that they humiliated Djokovic with this 10-day harassment, and they actually humiliated themselves. If you said that the one who was not vaccinated has no right to enter, Novak would not come or would be vaccinated,” Vucic told reporters.

He also said, he told Djokovic after talking to him, “That we can’t wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome.”

Views of Tennis Australia and ATP

Meanwhile, the national federation that runs the tournament, Tennis Australia, said it respects the decision of the Federal Court.

“We look forward to a competitive and exciting Australian Open 2022 and wish all players the best of luck,” it said in a statement.

The ATP - the Association of Tennis Professionals is world’s main men’s tennis governing body - said in their statement that more time was required “to take stock of the facts and to take the learnings from this situation.”

“Ultimately, decisions of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected,” the group’s statement said, adding that “Novak is one of our sport’s greatest champions, and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for the game.”

The player’s part

Djokovic also issued a statement on the matter where he said, “I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me, and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love.”

“I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament,” he added.

In fact, Djokovic could have appealed to the High Court over the court’s ruling, but not in time for him to compete in the Australian Open tournament – it started on January 17, 2022. Initially, he hoped that the court process would keep his aspirations alive for a 21st Grand Slam title which was extraordinarily fast by Australian standards.

Harsh criticism

However, the ex-players, sports’ veterans and fans around the world were outraged at the way Djokovic was treated. British tennis star Andy Murray, who has known Djokovic since childhood, described the situation as a ‘s***show’. Reacting to the court ruling, he told the BBC: “The situation has not been good all round for anyone.

“Hopefully, from all sides, from the tournament and from Novak, we can make sure this doesn’t happen at any other tournaments and that something is in place ahead of time.

“It feels everything here happened extremely last minute and that’s why it became such a s***show.”

Vasek Pospisil, a Canadian who won the 2014 Wimbledon men’s doubles title and has worked with Djokovic to form an association to represent players, tweeted: “There was a political agenda at play here with the (Australian) elections coming up which couldn’t be more obvious. This is not his fault.

He did not force his way into the country and did not ‘make his own rules’; he was ready to stay home.”

Pospisil wrote that Djokovic wouldn’t have tried to go to Australia at all and “been home with his family” had he not received the medical exemption.

Djokovic has won a total of 20 Grand Slam singles trophies, tied with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis.

However, his absence means just one past champion is in the men’s bracket: 2009 winner Nadal, who will have the chance to claim a 21st Grand Slam title and break the tie with Djokovic and Federer, who is sidelined after a series of knee operations.