Novak Djokovic would immediately appeal in court any attempt to deport him as Australian Open organisers were forced to prepare contingency plans for a draw that did not include him, before a decision expected on Friday on the world no.1 player’s future in the tournament.
A source close to the Australian Open defending champion, speaking anonymously to detail private planning, said his legal team would immediately take an adverse decision by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to court. Lawyers believe the hearing could be fast-tracked by minimising the length of written submissions and verbal evidence.
The Novak Djokovic visa saga will drag into its eighth day.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen, AP
Mr Hawke is likely to announce his decision on Friday, after Tennis Australia delayed for an hour a press conference on Thursday to announce the tournament’s draw in the expectation he would cancel the Serbian tennis star’s visa.
A federal source confirmed Mr Hawke was still going through documents submitted by Djokovic’s lawyers on Wednesday, which had delayed the process by days.
If the case does go to court, the 20-time grand slam winner’s legal team hope the matter could be heard in court over the weekend and finalised by Sunday, allowing him to play a match early next week if he beats the government for a second time.
One Liberal Party source, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the government was strongly leaning towards cancelling the visa. If the announcement was made later on Friday, it would minimise the amount of time Djokovic had to injunct the decision.
Thursday was another chaotic day in the now week-long saga.
Early in the day, it emerged Spanish authorities were looking into whether the Serbian was granted approval to enter Spain as an unvaccinated person a week before flying to Melbourne. The Victorian government in the early afternoon announced crowds at the tournament would be capped, before the tournament draw was cancelled just minutes before it was scheduled to begin at 3pm.
The draw was eventually held at 4.15pm. This occurred after it became clear Mr Morrison was not going to make any announcements in his press conference – beamed to international audiences on channels including the BBC – following a national cabinet meeting.
The Australian Open draw pitted Djokovic, pursuing a record-breaking 21st major title, against Serbian world No.78 Miomir Kecmanovic, 12 years his junior. There were mixed results for the Australian contingent, with women’s world No.1 Ashleigh Barty given a smooth entry into her campaign, drawing a qualifier in the first round.
The Prime Minister said he didn’t want to comment on the Djokovic matter as it was still before Mr Hawke, but reiterated that unvaccinated foreign nationals are not allowed to enter the country unless they have a valid medical exemption.
Mr Morrison said foreigners have to “show they are double vaccinated or must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons … that is the policy. That policy hasn’t changed,” he said.
“We would expect authorities to be implementing the policy of the government when it comes to those matters. That relates to people who are coming to Australia. These are non-citizens, non-residents.”
He also said it didn’t matter whether foreign nationals had a visa because the visa approval process had nothing to do with the process at the border to prove vaccination status. “And so that’s why it’s important to distinguish between the visa and the condition to enter at the border,” Mr Morrison said.
The world No.1 travelled to Spain in late December to train before the Australian Open. Since September 20, Serbian citizens have been required to present a vaccine certificate or medical exemption to enter Spain.
Local media outlet COPE said Spanish authorities were now investigating whether he requested special permission to go to Spain, given he was training and may not have been involved in “necessary work” or “high-level sporting events”, which are considered valid reasons for entry under Spanish law.
“The Ministry of the Interior has confirmed that they have also asked the Police [about Djokovic’s entry to Spain], while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has done the same,” COPE reported.
The focus on the Open comes against the backdrop of tens of thousands of daily COVID-19 cases, which prompted the Victorian government to cap crowds at the tennis. Officials have been weighing up a crowd cap at the Australian Open since December, The Age reported at the time, due to concern about people huddling at stadium entrance points, hospitality areas and inside stadiums when the roof is shut on hot days.
All tickets already purchased will be honoured, but the government said a 50 per cent cap would be imposed on all sessions yet to sell to that level. Some sessions have already sold about 70 per cent of tickets, The Age has confirmed, but about half the tickets have been sold for many sessions.
There will be no changes to ground access passes.
“These updates to arrangements for the Australian Open will mean that fans, players and the workforce can look forward to a terrific COVID-safe event in Australia’s event capital,” Acting Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events Jaala Pulford said.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese attacked the government’s handling of the tennis star’s visa.
“How is it that a … visa was granted in the first place?” he said. “This has been diabolical for Australia’s reputation, just in terms of our competence here, and it is extraordinary that – as we are speaking – we still don’t know what the decision will be.”
“The decision should have been made before he was granted a visa. Either he was eligible or he wasn’t.”
Australian immigration officials are still looking into a series of errors and discrepancies, including his breach of isolation requirements in Serbia, the incorrect statements on his travel entry form and inconsistencies on the date of his COVID-19 test.
It is unclear whether Djokovic would be forced back into immigration detention immediately, but considering he wouldn’t have a visa this would likely be the case unless he promises to get on the next flight home.
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