Australian Open chiefs have been warned to urgently scale up security around the tournament amid heightened tensions in Melbourne over the Novak Djokovic furore.
Analysts have warned of “inevitably febrile” scenes at Melbourne Park, whatever is decided by authorities regarding the apparently unvaccinated Serbian’s visa bid.
Opposing groups of protesters – including anti-vaxxers – have gathered outside the quarantine hotel of the world No.1 before his hearing on Monday.
As 200 demonstrators rallied outside Melbourne’s former Park Hotel on Saturday, security experts said tennis organisers should “rapidly” escalate plans.
“You cannot ignore the change in the risk profile,” said Alex Bomberg, whose Intelligent Protection firm provides security for athletes. “If you’ve got people that are angry, you’ve got to have additional plans for the venue, hotels and transportation. You’ve got to give people the moment to protest, but you’ve also got to not let that get involved in troubling the tournament.”
He said a soccer-style security presence would be needed. Serbian and Croatian supporters have previously clashed in Melbourne.
Novak Djokovic supporters protest outside the Park Hotel where he is being held, along with refugees in detention. Credit:Chris Hopkins
Djokovic’s visa bid will be heard by authorities tomorrow after he filed legal papers claiming he had a positive COVID-19 test on December 16. He is likely to face questions on why he attended an awards ceremony in Belgrade the next day.
He claims he had received a medical exemption to compete in the Australian Open, but upon arrival was stopped by border forces. Since then, he has been accommodated in a centre which gained notoriety last year when a fire forced migrants to be evacuated and maggots were allegedly found in the food.
Lawyers for Djokovic, who is thought to have refused vaccination, say the player was granted a temporary visa by Tennis Australia because of his recent infection. It appears they will effectively tell the court the decision to revoke the visa was affected by a variety of “jurisdictional errors”.
Many countries allow a recent COVID infection as a reason for an exemption. Australia’s federal government released a letter soon after Djokovic arrived showing it had notified Tennis Australia that was not necessarily the case in the country.
Meanwhile, Czech player Renata Voracova, who was detained in the same hotel as Djokovic and had her visa revoked after issues with her exemption, left the country on Saturday.
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