15th January, 2022
Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic returned to an all too familiar immigration detention hotel on Saturday, waiting for a court to decide if he should be deported.
Djokovic arrived at Melbourne’s Park Hotel around 3:30 pm (0430 GMT), the same immigration detention hotel where the unvaccinated Serbian superstar was held last week over visa problems related to a COVID-19 medical exemption.
About a dozen refugee activists chanted “stop the torture … let them out” as Djokovic and Border Force guards drove into the underground garage of the hotel, which is also being used to hold 33 asylum seekers and travellers in COVID-19 quarantine.
A man cycling past the hotel shouted: “Go home, Novak!”
A Border Force spokesperson confirmed that Djokovic has been detained.
The saga that has dominated headlines worldwide for the past week could climax on Sunday, when a Federal Court convenes to hear the 34-year-old’s appeal against the Australian government’s second attempt to boot him out.
The tournament, which Djokovic has won nine times previously, starts on Monday.
The build-up has been virtually eclipsed by the controversy over Djokovic’s visa, his treatment by immigration officials, and the government’s handling of the case.
Detained on arrival, Djokovic spent his first four nights in hotel detention before a judge freed him on Monday after finding a decision to cancel his visa on arrival had been unreasonable. read more
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cancelled Djokovic’s visa again on Friday night, prompting another appeal by the star player’s lawyers.
Court documents released after an initial hearing in the Federal Court on Saturday showed the minister had justified his decision on the grounds that Djokovic’s presence could whip up more anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia at a time that the country is in the midst of its worst outbreak of the virus.
“Although I … accept that Mr Djokovic poses a negligible individual risk of transmitting COVID-19 to other persons, I nonetheless consider that his presence may be a risk to the health of the Australian community,” Hawke said in a letter to Djokovic and his legal team.
This explanation in Djokovic’s affidavit was more detailed than the brief statement Hawke released on Friday, saying his decision was based on “health and good order grounds”.
Justice David O’Callaghan set a hearing on Djokovic’s appeal for 9:30 a.m. Sunday (2230 GMT Saturday).
Three judges will hear the appeal and their decision will be final, the court said.
Djokovic’s lawyers said they would argue deportation would only further fan anti-vaccine sentiment and would be as much a threat to disorder and public health as letting him stay.
LOCKER ROOM RUMBLINGS
Djokovic’s leading rivals have become increasingly impatient with the uncertainty hanging over the draw and the cloud hanging over their sport.
“Honestly I’m little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis,” Spaniard Rafa Nadal, who is tied on 20 major titles with Djokovic, told reporters at Melbourne Park, where the event will be played.
German Alexander Zverev, the world number three, said Djokovic had been treated unfairly and that the Serb might have been used as a political pawn by Australian authorities, something Canberra has denied.
“This is obviously not a nice thing for everyone, for him especially. But don’t question his legacy because of this,” Zverev said.