Tennis star Novak Djokovic’s entry permit to Australia was canceled because his presence risks strengthening anti-vaccination sentiment among a minority of the population and creating a public order risk.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke barred the world’s top-ranked tennis player despite saying Djokovic had entered Australia with a valid medical exemption from being vaccinated and presents a negligible health risk himself, according to court documents released Saturday.
His ongoing presence, however, “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 which may themselves be a source of community transmission,” Hawke said in the filing.
Djokovic is unvaccinated and has shown an “apparent disregard” for basic rules such as isolating after a positive test, which may encourage or influence others to emulate his conduct, he said.
Djokovic re-entered immigration detention on Saturday as his lawyers fight the government’s attempts to deport him a second time. Hawke used special powers to revoke his visa on the basis it was in the public interest to do so, reversing an earlier court ruling that quashed his first visa cancellation for procedural reasons.
For Djokovic, his lawyers said Hawke took an “unreasonable approach” to assessing whether his deportation was in the public interest and cited no evidence that his presence may foster anti-vaccination sentiment, according to a court filing, labeling the minister’s move as “illogical” and “irrational.”
‘Politics, Not Law’
Public outrage has dogged the champion since his arrival in Australia last week following the revelation that he had secured a medical exemption to play in the tournament, unleashing a wave of anger in a country that’s endured some of the toughest curbs seen in the pandemic. While Victoria state granted Djokovic the exemption, federal officials overturned his visa on arrival.
Djokovic this week caused further controversy in Australia and abroad when he said he attended a newspaper interview and photo shoot when he knew he was infectious with Covid-19. He also blamed “human error” for an incorrect travel declaration that he used to enter Australia.
The re-examination of Djokovic’s entry permit was “driven by politics, not law” as the tennis player hadn’t broken any rules, the lawyers argued in a letter to Hawke dated Jan. 11. “It is remarkable that the Minister for Immigration now seeks to engage his personal discretionary powers to cancel Mr Djokovic’s visa, even though there is no ‘rule’ Mr Djokovic has not complied with.”
Djokovic was entered into the Australian Open on Thursday despite lingering doubts over his ability to play as he attempts to win a record 21st Grand Slam title. The No. 1 seed was to face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in his first match.
Djokovic will remain in immigration detention until the outcome of the court hearing, which is set to resume Sunday.