By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic returned to court on Sunday to fight an attempted deportation due to what a government minister described as a perception that the top-ranked tennis player was a ” talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiment”. .”
Three Federal Court judges are hoping to hear the entire case in a single day so the No.1-ranked men’s tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion can begin his title defense on Monday at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year.
Djokovic spent Saturday night in a migrant detention hotel after he and his lawyers met with immigration officials earlier in the day. Television footage showed the 34-year-old Serb wearing a face mask as he sat in a vehicle near the hotel on Sunday morning.
He is allowed to leave the hotel to spend Sunday in his lawyers’ offices, guarded by two immigration officers, while the challenge is heard by videoconference.
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Djokovic spent four nights confined to a hotel near downtown Melbourne before being released last Monday when he won a legal challenge on procedural grounds against his first visa cancellation.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday blocked the visa, which was initially revoked when it landed at a Melbourne airport on January 5.
Deportation from Australia can result in a three-year ban on returning to the country, although it can be lifted, depending on the circumstances.
On Sunday, Federal Chief Justice James Allsop gave his reasons for rejecting Hawke’s argument that the case only warranted a hearing by a single judge.
Allsop quoted Hawke’s own words that the issues behind his decision to cancel the visa “go to the very preservation of the life and health of many members of the community.”
A three-judge verdict is much less likely to be appealed than a single-judge decision.
Djokovic was unable to appeal a decision made on Sunday or Monday in time to play at the Australian Open, Allsop said.
Djokovic’s lawyers filed court documents that revealed Hawke said the tennis star “is seen by some as the talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiment.”
Australia has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world.
The minister said Djokovic’s presence in Australia could pose a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public and “may be counterproductive to vaccination efforts by others in Australia”.
The Department of Health said Djokovic had a “low” risk of transmitting COVID-19 and a “very low” risk of transmitting the disease at the Australian Open.
The minister cited Djokovic’s comments in April 2020 that he was “against vaccination” and wouldn’t want to be forced by anyone to get vaccinated in order to compete.
Djokovic’s lawyers argued that the Minister had provided no evidence that Djokovic’s presence in Australia could “foster anti-vaccination sentiment”.
Hundreds of activists staged a peaceful rally outside the Melbourne Park complex that hosts the Australian Open, and have planned another on Monday.
“We are at Rod Laver Arena supporting Novak. He won nine titles (Australian Open) here. Hopefully it will be No 10 – if he can get out of quarantine and get his visa back,” said Harrison McLean, one of the rally organizers. “We are a peaceful movement, here to raise awareness and support everyone’s freedom of choice.”
Sydney-based immigration lawyer Simon Jeans said he was surprised Djokovic was granted a visa because his COVID-19 infection last month would not have exempted him from Australia’s strict rules according to which foreign visitors should be vaccinated unless there are valid medical reasons why they cannot.
“The unanswered question is if Djokovic was such a threat to good order, why grant him a visa” in November? John asked. “It’s a high-risk strategy. It will be much harder for the minister to convince three judges that what he did was in the public interest.
Djokovic, who has won the last three Australian Open titles, is looking for a record 21st Grand Slam singles title. He is currently tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for most by a man in history.
In a social media post on Wednesday that was his most extensive public comment to date on the episode, Djokovic blamed his agent for checking the wrong box on his travel document, calling it “human error. and certainly not deliberate”.
In that same post, Djokovic said he gave an interview and photoshoot with a French newspaper in Serbia despite knowing he had tested positive for COVID-19. Djokovic tried to use what he says was a positive test taken on December 16 to justify a medical exemption that would allow him to avoid having to get vaccinated on the grounds that he already had COVID-19.
In canceling Djokovic’s visa, Hawke said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The episode struck a chord in Australia, and particularly in the state of Victoria, where residents endured more than 260 days of lockdown during the worst of the pandemic.
Australia is facing a massive increase in virus cases caused by the highly transmissible omicron variant. On Friday, the country reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in Victoria state. Although many infected people are not getting as sick as in previous outbreaks, the outbreak continues to strain the healthcare system and disrupt supply chains.
Djokovic’s supporters in Serbia have been appalled by visa cancellations. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused the Australian government of “harassing” and “abusing” Djokovic and questioned whether Morrison’s government was simply trying to score political points before the next election.
“Why didn’t you send him back right away or tell him it was impossible to get a visa?” Vucic asked Australian authorities in a social media address. “Why are you harassing him and why are you mistreating not only him, but his family and an entire free and proud nation.”
Everyone at the Australian Open must be vaccinated.
Under Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to withdraw from the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev would fill Djokovic’s place in the squad.
If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule is published, he will be replaced on the pitch by what is known as a ‘lucky loser’ – a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but enters the main draw because of the exit of another player before the competition. has begun.
AP Sports Writer John Pye contributed to this report.
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