Sports

Novak Djokovic held in Australia ahead of crucial immigration hearing

Immigration officials had his visa revoked twice by Djokovic, the world’s highest-ranked men’s tennis player, because he had not been vaccinated against Covid-19.

The Australian Border Force interviewed the tennis star at 8 a.m. local time on Saturday (4 p.m. ET on Friday). Both parties in the case agreed that the site would remain “undisclosed” to the public in order to preserve the tennis star’s safety and avoid the “media circus”.

Djokovic is expected to spend Saturday night in pre-immigration custody as his case is debated in the Australian Federal Court.

At Saturday’s preliminary hearing, Judge David O’Callaghan, who is presiding over the case, said the court would hear detailed oral arguments on Sunday.

If Djokovic’s appeal is successful, the schedule will allow him to compete in the Australian Open draw on Monday.

The tournament, however, was overshadowed by a high-profile saga off the court, pitting one of tennis’ biggest stars against Australian government and public health officials.

Djokovic’s visa was revoked for the second time on Friday by Alex Hawke, Australia’s immigration minister, but the government agreed not to deport Djokovic over the weekend before his case was finalised.

Wood told the court that the immigration minister had used his personal power to revoke the 34-year-old’s visa on the grounds that it would “stir up anti-extremist sentiment” should he remain in Australia, calling it a “completely different approach” to the government’s argument.

“The underlying new rationale is not an immediate danger to others, it’s that having Mr. Djokovic in Australia, in Melbourne in particular, by being here would provoke anti-extremism sentiment. That’s the point. A completely different approach,” Wood said.

Under current Australian laws, all international arrivals are required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 – which Djokovic is not – unless they have a medical exemption.

Djokovic said he was under the impression he could enter because two independent teams linked to Australian tennis and the Victorian state government granted him an exemption on the grounds that he had Covid-19 in December. The federal government has argued, under its rules, that prior Covid-19 infection is not a valid reason for exemption.

Djokovic’s legal team appealed Friday’s ruling, and the case has been transferred to the series to the Australian Federal Court.

After an emergency hearing on Friday, Judge Kelly ruled that Djokovic must undergo an interview with the Australian Border Force at an undisclosed location.

Kelly then ordered authorities to detain Djokovic and escort him to his lawyer’s office while his case was presented in federal court.

Djokovic’s visa was first revoked shortly after his January 5 arrival, but Kelly ruled earlier this week that border officers were “unreasonable” when they rescinded his initial visa to enter Australia. The judge then ordered Djokovic’s release from immigration detention.

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