Why Novak Djokovic’s visa was canceled – and what it means for the Australian Open
World number one Novak Djokovic’s hopes of winning his 10th Australian Open in 2022 were all but dashed Thursday after he was denied entry to Australia. Djokovic arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday evening, just a week and a half before the first Grand Slam of the year. The 34-year-old had obtained a medical exemption for the country’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements to participate in the tournament, but on a strange day in which he was held for eight hours at the airport, his visa was lost. was ultimately refused.
“Mr Djokovic’s visa has been canceled,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said tweeted. “The rules are the rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules.”
In an interview Thursday morning, the Australian Minister of Health Greg Hunt said Djokovic failed to provide “appropriate standards of proof” for his exemption to border officials.
For months, there has been speculation about Djokovic’s status for the first Grand Slam of the year due to his alleged reluctance to get the shot. He has never publicly stated whether he was vaccinated, but has repeatedly called it a “personal decision” and “a private matter”.
Finally, earlier this week he announced he will be making the tournament and is on his way to Australia. But after days of public criticism of the exemption decision and a night of confusion, it remains unclear whether he will immediately leave the country or try to appeal the decision and stay in a nearby quarantine hotel. .
So how exactly did it go and what does it mean for Djokovic and the tournament? Here’s what we know so far.
First, are vaccines mandatory for 2022 Australian Open players?
The short answer is yes. All players – as well as everyone on the Melbourne Park field – must have completed the full dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine (i.e. a series of at least two injections in most cases) to be to participate.
An exemption could be requested if they followed any of the guidelines suggested by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, which includes evidence of COVID-19 infection in the past six months, a “serious adverse event” a previous dose of the vaccine or an acute serious medical condition.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said 26 people associated with the event – including Djokovic – had requested a bye and only a “handful” had been approved.
Why was Djokovic exempted?
Due to privacy laws, we are not sure. Djokovic tested positive for the virus in June 2020, but no new cases of infection have been reported.
Tiley said Djokovic received no special treatment and that each request was reviewed by two independent panels whose names were drawn up for reasons of confidentiality. Tiley called it a “very legitimate request and process.”
Djokovic had previously withdrawn from this week’s ATP Cup in Sydney, leading to speculation that he would not participate in the Australian Open. But on Tuesday, he revealed on Instagram that he was heading to Australia for the tournament. “Today I am heading to Down Under with an exemption clearance,” he wrote.
Looks like Djokovic has been approved by the tournament, so why can’t he play?
Djokovic got an exemption from Tennis Australia (not the Australian government), but the wrong type of visa was filed for his entry at the border, and it was not valid for an unvaccinated person. As a result, he was arrested on his arrival at Melbourne Airport around 11:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday evening. According to Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, Djokovic was isolated in a room overnight while speaking to Australian border forces officials.
“Novak is currently in a room that no one can enter,” Srdjan told B92, a Serbian media organization. “In front of the room, there are two policemen.”
Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s coach, posted an early morning photo from what appeared to be the airport, alongside Djokovic’s physiotherapist Ulises Badio. The caption read: “Not the most usual trip down”, with a series of emojis.
According to Paul Sakkal of The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, Djokovic was asked to provide documents to prove the reason for his exemption.
“A federal government source familiar with the episode said there were question marks as to whether Djokovic had adequate documentation to prove the reason for his exemption,” Sakkal wrote. “This evidence must be presented at the border by unvaccinated people. The source said it was not clear whether an infection with COVID-19 in the past six months – which is suspected to be the rationale for the player’s exemption – was sufficient to secure entry into Australia in accordance with federal guidelines.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also insisted that Djokovic provide evidence.
“Anyone seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,” Morrison said Wednesday at a press conference.
“If he is not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.… If this proof is insufficient, then he will not be treated differently from others and he will be in the next plane home. “
Home Secretary Karen Andrews said on Wednesday that the final decision would rest with Australian border forces.
“While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may allow an unvaccinated player to participate in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border,” Andrews said. “If an arriving person is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be medically vaccinated in order to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travelers.”
Djokovic spoke to border force officials at Melbourne airport for several hours as a decision was made.
Victoria Sports Minister Jaala Pulford said border officials contacted the Victorian government before Djokovic’s flight arrived to ask if he would help sponsor Djokovic’s visa application. She said he declined.
We have always been clear on two points: visa approval is the responsibility of the federal government and medical exemptions are the responsibility of physicians.
– Member of Parliament for Jaala Pulford (@JaalaPulford) January 5, 2022
Did anyone from Djokovic’s home country of Serbia get involved?
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic spoke by phone with Djokovic while at the airport and vowed to do whatever the country could to help. Vucic posted their conversation to Instagram shortly after.
“I told our Novak that [all of] Serbia is with him and that our authorities take all measures to put an end to the harassment of the best tennis player in the world, “Vucic said in a translated text.
“In accordance with all standards of public international law, Serbia will fight for Novak [Djokovic], for justice and truth. “
According to reports, Daniel Emery, the Australian ambassador to Serbia, had been called in to help liaise with Serbian government officials in Belgrade. Officials from the Serbian Embassy in Canberra have also been implicated.
Isn’t Djokovic nicknamed the “King of Melbourne” and adored by the Australian crowd? Why was everyone so angry that they would play?
More than 90% of Australia’s adult population is fully vaccinated and residents of the country have faced strict travel restrictions over the past two years as the country tries to contain the virus. As such, many are unhappy with the possibility of special treatment for a celebrity while many in the country still cannot travel abroad, or even in some cases, within the country.
The reaction to Djokovic’s exemption announcement was immediate and largely negative. Besides the prime minister, several local politicians have also expressed their displeasure.
What a disgrace!
We’ve had 6 closures – schools and small businesses closed, funerals and weddings banned, families separated for months and now a tennis star is exempt.
– David Southwick MP (@SouthwickMP) January 4, 2022
How did other players react to the news?
Many felt the same as the Australian public when the initial exemption was revealed.
“I think if it was me who wasn’t vaccinated, I wouldn’t have a exemption,” former world number one doubles Jamie Murray told reporters at the ATP Cup this week. “You know, but kudos to him for being allowed to come to Australia and compete.”
Other players have been more sympathetic to Djokovic.
“I do not understand why [Djokovic] receives so much hate for his vaccine exemption “, American doubles player Nicole Melichar said in a tweet before Djokovic’s visa was refused. “He’s within the rules, and the government could have said no, but it didn’t.”
Two-time Australian Open quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren, who is not attending the event this year due to a vaccine requirement, has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the Australian government for his treatment by Djokovic.
Just to be crystal clear here
2 separate medical commissions approved his exemption
And the politicians stop him
Australia Doesn’t Deserve to Host a Grand Slam https://t.co/3B6lt4u9Mq
– Tennys Sandgren (@TennysSandgren) January 5, 2022
What does this mean for the tournament?
A little! Djokovic won more Australian Open singles titles than any other player in the open era, and was on the hunt for his 10th trophy in Melbourne, as well as a record-breaking 21st major title. After narrowly and devastatingly losing the elusive “Calendar Slam” at the US Open in September, Djokovic was undoubtedly eager to return to his favorite Slam.
Djokovic, the three-time defending champion, was the big favorite to win the title, and his absence will certainly provide an opportunity for other players. For Daniil Medvedev, the world No. 2 who beat Djokovic in New York, it will be the opportunity to win another major title on hard, his favorite surface. For other young players, like No.3 Alexander Zverev or No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, this could just be a golden opportunity for a first slam victory.
In addition, 20-time major champion Rafael Nadal will play his first major tournament since Roland Garros (where he fell – you guessed it – to Djokovic in the semi-final) after being sidelined by injury. . He will now be the only member of the “Big Three” in the draw and will have a chance to break the coveted major record.
Do other tournaments or host countries have vaccine requirements? Will this become a problem throughout the season?
If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that protocols and regulations are constantly changing as the virus continues to mutate and new variants emerge. However, as of this writing, there is no word on other tournaments or host countries requiring players to be vaccinated. Djokovic has previously said he won’t be at as many events at this point in his career, so it’s possible we won’t see him again until Dubai at the end of February, or for the “Sunshine Double” in March at Indian Wells and Miami.