Tennis star Novak Djokovic has blamed his team for an “administrative mistake” in incorrectly filling out travel forms to enter Australia, and admitted holding public events while COVID-positive in Belgrade.
But the Serbian athlete, who spoke out on Wednesday for the first time since the Federal Court ruling in his favour, has slammed what he called “misinformation” about his case.
It came as Immigration Minister Alex Hawke again delayed a decision on whether to cancel Djokovic’s visa.
The world No.1’s admission followed questions about his version of events around his recent COVID infection, the basis for his application for an exemption to enter Australia despite being unvaccinated.
He claimed to have tested positive on December 16, but photos show him at public events in Serbia in the days afterward – when, under Serbian law, he should have been in isolation.
German newspaper Der Spiegel also raised questions about whether the PCR results in Djokovic’s application were valid, with alleged inconsistencies in the documents’ timestamps and serial numbers.
The reigning Australian Open champion also claimed on forms completed on his entry to Australia that he had travelled nowhere else in the previous fortnight. But separate photos show him visiting Spain and Serbia within that window.
Djokovic has made few previous public comments on his well-publicised case – until his lengthy written statement released via Instagram on Wednesday afternoon. In it, he alleged “continuing misinformation” about his activities, but admitted his team had made errors in completing his travel forms.
Djokovic said he took rapid tests and PCR tests on December 16, after attending a basketball game in Belgrade on December 14, where he said several people had tested positive to the virus.
He claimed to have no symptoms at the time.
After testing negative on two rapid tests, and while awaiting his PCR results, he went to a children’s tennis event on December 17.
He said he did not receive the positive result until a day later.
However, in a sworn affidavit to the Federal Court, Djokovic said he was “tested and diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2” on December 16.
A medical certificate in his affidavit said he was tested for COVID at 13.05pm on the 16th, with a result at 20.19pm that day.
Photos from the children’s event show a maskless Djokovic standing among a large group and posing for photos.
Djokovic said he also attended a media interview and photo shoot on December 18.
“While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection this was an error of judgment and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” he said in his written statement.
In an interview with the Seven Network on Wednesday morning, Djokovic’s mother Dijana claimed her son “didn’t know, probably” that he was COVID-positive at the time of those events.
“When he realised he was positive, he went into isolation,” she said.
Regarding his travel forms, Djokovic said his “support team” submitted them for him, and his agent “sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box”.
“This was a human error and certainly not deliberate. We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur,” he wrote.
“Today my team has provided additional information to the Australian government to clarify this matter.”
Giving false or misleading information on Australian arrival documents is a serious offence, while civil penalties are also possible.
Moments before Djokovic’s statement was released on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Mr Hawke confirmed the minister was still considering the visa decision, in light of the new information.
“Mr Djokovic’s lawyers have recently provided lengthy further submissions and supporting documentation said to be relevant to the possible cancellation,” the spokesperson said.
“Naturally, this will affect the timeframe for a decision.”
On Tuesday night, a spokesperson said Mr Hawke was “considering whether to cancel Djokovic’s visa under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act”.
That section allows the Minister to cancel a visa if they are “satisfied that it would be in the public interest” to do so.
The Australian Open begins on January 17.
Wednesday’s developments came as the Serbian prime minister asked Scott Morrison for more timely information on Djokovic’s status, and sought assurances he would be treated with dignity before the grand slam.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese called the incident a “mess” and accused the Coalition government of “a grand slam of failures”.
“It is a very embarrassing situation for Australia, given this story has been the biggest story in sport for months,” he told Seven.