The decision definitively buries Novak Djokovic’s hopes of winning a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open which begins on Monday January 17. The Australian Federal Court on Sunday rejected the appeal of the 34-year-old Serbian tennis player against his expulsion from the country, ordered by the government which considered that the world number one, not vaccinated against Covid-19, represented a “health risk”.
→ CONTEXT. Novak Djokovic returned to detention in Australia
At midday, Novak Djokovic left Melbourne on a flight to Dubai. “Extremely disappointed” by the Court’s decision on his expulsion, he had a few hours earlier said in a statement that he respected the verdict and was preparing to leave the country.
Allowed to leave the detention center where he was placed on Saturday, Novak Djokovic followed the hearing online, which lasted four hours, from the offices of his lawyers in Melbourne.
In his conclusions filed on Saturday before the Court, the Minister of Immigration Alex Hawke had maintained that the presence of Novak Djokovic in the country was “likely to represent a health risk”. According to him, she encouraged “anti-vaccination sentiment” and could deter Australians from getting their booster shots, as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country. The presence in Australia of the champion could even “lead to an upsurge in civil unrest”, added the minister.
→ READ. Antivax, esotericism and mysterious pyramid: Novak Djokovic, follower of pseudosciences
Although he had described the risk of the player himself infecting Australians as “negligible”, the Minister had estimated that his “contempt” Passing health rules against Covid was a bad example.
Sunday before the Court, the tennis player’s lawyers described the detention of their client and his possible expulsion as“illogical”, “irrational” and “unreasonable”.
The government “don’t know what Novak Djokovic’s opinions are at the moment”, pleaded lawyer Nick Wood, saying that his client has never publicly supported the anti-vaccination movement.
Government lawyer Stephen Lloyd responded that the champion’s failure to be vaccinated nearly two years into the pandemic and his repeated disregard of health rules, including failing to isolate when he knew he was infected, constituted sufficient proof of his position.
This twisty soap opera took place in a country whose inhabitants have endured for almost two years some of the strictest anti-Covid restrictions in the world, and where elections are scheduled for May. Hence a charged political context. Pressure had intensified in recent days around Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, accused of“incompetence” by the Labor opposition.
“A loss for tennis”
The Australian government thus welcomed its legal victory on Sunday. ‘Australia’s strong border protection policy has kept us safe during the pandemic’, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said in a statement. “Australians have made great sacrifices to get here and the Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting this position” he added.
→ ANALYSIS. The Djokovic case raises the question of the vaccination status of athletes
In Serbia, where Novak Djokovic is revered and considered a national hero, Australia’s decision unsurprisingly went down badly. “They humiliated themselves, Djokovic can return to his country with his head held high and look everyone straight in the eye”, President Aleksandar Vucic got carried away about the Australian leaders.
The ATP, which manages the men’s professional circuit, estimated for its part that the decision of the Australian justice “put an end to a series of deeply regrettable events”. “Judicial decisions on public health issues must be respected”, she added, recalling that she “continues to strongly recommend vaccination to all players”. Before recalling that Djokovic “is one of the greatest champions in our sport and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for tennis”.