Novak Djokovic will spend the weekend in immigration detention after his court appeal against his sensational deportation from Australia was adjourned until Monday.
From the moment the world No.1 men’s player posted on social media that he was on his way to Melbourne to compete in the Australian Open, chaos erupted.
Frustrated Victorians struggled to understand how Djokovic, who has repeatedly refused to disclose his vaccination status, said he received a vaccine exemption from the Victorian government and Tennis Australia.
But Djokovic was already on a 14-hour flight from Dubai.
It seemed as if his 10th Australian Open title was within grasp … until his visa was rejected upon arrival.
Hotel detention, diplomatic spats and a court appeal followed.
So, how did it come to this?
April 2020: Djokovic opposes vaccines
It began almost two years ago in a Facebook live-stream in which Djokovic voiced his concerns over a vaccine that, at the time, hadn’t been made yet.
“Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” Djokovic said.
“But, if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.”
His comments caused a stir, so much so that he soon released a statement to the Associated Press defending himself.
Djokovic explained that many tennis players and other athletes had asked him for his opinion on vaccines.
“I have expressed my views because I have the right to and I also feel responsible to highlight certain essential topics that are concerning the tennis world,” he said.
“I am keeping an open mind, and I’ll continue to research this topic because it is important and it will affect all of us.”
June 2020: Djokovic tests positive for COVID-19
Djokovic and his wife Jelena returned a positive result for the virus in late June. As did three other top-ranked tennis players, including fellow Serb Viktor Troicki, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and Croatian Borna Coric.
They had been competing at the Adria Tour exhibition tournament, organised by Djokovic, which was widely panned for its lack of health and safety protocols.
The charity tournament particularly made headlines after footage emerged of the tennis players hugging and partying together.
Australian star Nick Kyrgios tore into their behaviour, tweeting: “Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ – this takes the cake.”
The tournament final was eventually canned after Dimitrov tested positive.
Scottish player Andy Murray took aim at the tournament when he said it shouldn’t have gone ahead.
“Obviously it’s not surprising how many players have tested positive when you see the scenes and the images and the videos from the tournament and the players’ party with no social distancing in place,” he told reporters at the 2020 ‘Battle of Brits’ tournament.
For his part, Djokovic shared a lengthy statement apologising for the damage his tournament caused. He acknowledged it was “too soon” to host a tournament as the first wave of the coronavirus swept the world.
But Djokovic later hit back at his critics and accused them of a “witch hunt” against him.
“I can only see criticism lately and much of it is malicious,” Djokovic told Serbia’s Sportski Zurnal.
“It’s obviously more than just criticism, it’s like an agenda and a witch hunt are on. Someone has to take the fall, a big name.”
He insisted he had acted in good faith and his intentions were pure.
The Adria Tour was, according to Djokovic, supposed to be a humanitarian event to help players and the tennis federations in the Balkans, where the tournament was held.
May-October 2021: Djokovic continues to compete
Djokovic told reporters at the Serbia Open in May that he hoped vaccines wouldn’t be mandatory for players.
“I’ve always believed in freedom of choice,” he said.
“I will keep the decision as to whether I’m going to get vaccinated or not to myself.”
In October, Djokovic said he wasn’t sure if he would compete at the Australian Open because of its vaccine mandate.
Again, he refused to disclose his vaccination status.
October: Daniel Andrews stands his ground
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared no exemptions would be granted for unvaccinated players.
“I want to be very clear with every Victorian, my government won’t be applying for an exemption for any unvaccinated player,” he said.
Mr Andrews said he wouldn’t ask people in the grandstand or working the event to be vaccinated while players aren’t.
“We’re not going to be applying an exemption. Therefore, the issue is basically resolved.”
December 17: Tennis Australia’s surprising protocols
Despite Mr Andrews’ declaration, Tennis Australia announced its COVID-19 vaccination protocols, including the process for players seeking medical exemptions in line with the Victorian Department of Health.
The exemption process follows guidelines set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which states the four reasons that warrant a medical exemption for COVID vaccines.
An acute major medical condition, such as major surgery
A serious adverse reaction to a previous dose of vaccine
Evidence the vaccine is a risk to themselves or others during the vaccination process, due to underlying developmental or mental health disorders
Evidence of a PCR-confirmed COVID infection over the past six months.
The process includes redacting personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants.
January 4, 2022: Djokovic flies to Australia
Djokovic truly believed he had everything squared away, but Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews warned otherwise.
Ms Andrews said Djokovic would only be allowed into Australia if he complied with federal border requirements for overseas travellers to be fully vaccinated unless they have a valid medical exemption.
January 5: Djokovic’s visa is cancelled
Djokovic touched down at Tullamarine at 11.30pm, only to be marched into an interview room at Melbourne airport by the Australian Border Force (ABF) and quizzed on his vaccine exemption.
Djokovic was detained, but his team was allowed into Melbourne.
“The [Australian Border Force] can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled,” the ABF said in a statement the following morning.
January 6: Djokovic challenges
Djokovic was eventually transferred to the Park Hotel in Carlton.
On Thursday, his fans gathered outside the hotel, waving Serbian flags and dancing to accordion music.
It followed threats from Djokovic’s father Srdjan that “we’ll gather in the streets” if he wasn’t released from detention.
On Instagram, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić vowed to “fight” for Djokovic’s entry into Australia.
“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him,” Mr Vučić wrote.
“Our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end, immediately.”
The Park Hotel is the same facility where the government is detaining asylum seekers.
A second rally of refugee advocates used the opportunity to raise awareness for human rights concerns.
“The real crime at the Park Hotel is the ongoing and arbitrary detention of 36 Medevac refugees for more than eight years now,” Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective Victoria told reporters.
Djokovic legally challenged Australia’s decision to cancel his visa, with the appeal heard at 6pm in the Federal Court on Thursday.
Lawyers for Djokovic were told Tennis Australia would need a definitive answer by Tuesday for scheduling purposes.
Judge Anthony Kelly said “the tail won’t be wagging the dog here”.
On Thursday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Djokovic didn’t have a valid medical exemption.
Mr Morrison later told reporters that the ABF had acted on the “intelligence” of Djokovic’s very public social media post.
“When you get people making public statements, of what they say they have, and what they are going to do, and what their claims are, they draw significant attention to themselves,” Mr Morrison said.
“Anyone who does that, whether they are a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player, a journalist, whoever does that, they can expect to be asked questions more than others.”
Now, this is when things get really interesting.
Multiple sources told The Age on Thursday that Djokovic applied for an exemption on the basis that he had tested positive for COVID-19 (again) in the past six months.
In a November letter published by The Age on Thursday, Department of Health First Assistant Secretary Lisa Schofield told Australian Open boss Craig Tiley that “people who have previously had COVID-19 and not received a vaccine dose are not considered fully vaccinated”.
Health Minister Greg Hunt reiterated this advice in a second letter sent to Mr Tiley on November 29.
Djokovic’s hearing will continue on Monday at 10am AEDT.
For now, he remains in Australia.
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