MELBOURNE, Jan 14 (Reuters) -World tennis number one Novak Djokovic on Friday asked an Australian court to block his deportation ahead of the Australian Open after the government canceled his visa for a second time based on COVID-19 entry regulations.
Djokovic’s lawyers filed their application for an interim injunction late last night, less than three hours after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his discretionary powers to revoke the visa.
The Serbian tennis player, who was aiming to win his 21st Grand Slam by defending his Australian title, was informed on arrival on January 5 that his visa, granted on the basis of a medical exemption to the visitor vaccination requirement, was invalid.
He spent several days in immigration detention before that decision was overturned on procedural grounds. His lawyers said they had been told by the government that Djokovic would not be detained again on Friday night.
The Age newspaper reported that the 34-year-old Serb had been summoned to appear before immigration officials on Saturday.
Hawke said in a statement that „I have today exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Immigration Act to cancel Mr Novak Djokovic’s visa on grounds of health and good order, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.“
Under this section, Djokovic will not be eligible for a visa to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances.
The player’s legal team said Hawke argued that allowing Djokovic to stay would encourage the anti-vaccine stance.
Although Djokovic has publicly opposed mandatory vaccination, he has not campaigned against vaccination in general, and his lawyers called Hawke’s decision „patently irrational.“ They also indicated that they hope his challenge can be heard on Sunday, a day before the start of the tournament.
The controversy has intensified a global debate over the rights of the unvaccinated, and has become a sensitive political issue for the prime minister, Scott Morrison (LON:MRW), as he campaigns for the election, due in May.
While Morrison’s government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not been spared criticism for its seemingly inconsistent handling of Djokovic’s visa application.
„Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and rightly expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected,“ Morrison said in a statement.
„This is what the minister is doing by taking this action today. Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe,“ he said, adding that he would not comment further in view of the planned legal proceedings.
Djokovic wurde als Topgesetzter ausgelost und sollte nächste Woche in seinem Auftaktspiel auf seinen Landsmann Miomir Kecmanovic treffen.
Der Serbe wirkte entspannt, als er am frühen Freitag auf dem leeren Platz im Melbourne Park mit seinem Team seine Aufschläge und Rückschläge trainierte und gelegentlich Pausen einlegte, um sich den Schweiß aus dem Gesicht zu wischen.
(Berichterstattung durch Sonali Paul; Bearbeitung durch Jacqueline Wong; Übersetzung durch Darío Fernández, Tomás Cobos und Carlos Serrano)