Novak Djokovic leaves Australia after court upholds visa cancellation
Serbian tennis player seen boarding plane to Dubai hours after decision left him ‘extremely disappointed’
Novak Djokovic has been deported from Australia ahead of the Australian Open after the full federal court dismissed the world No 1’s bid to restore his visa.
The Serbian tennis player was seen boarding an Emirates flight from Melbourne to Dubai hours after the court rejected his challenge to the decision of Australian immigration minister, Alex Hawke, to cancel the visa. The flight left shortly after 10.30pm local time (11.30am GMT).
Hawke had cancelled the visa on Friday on the basis Djokovic’s presence in Australia might risk “civil unrest” as he is a “talisman of anti-vaccination sentiment”. And on Sunday, Chief Justice James Allsop announced the court unanimously dismissed Djokovic’s application, with costs to be paid by the tennis star.
Allsop explained the decision of the court did not reflect on “the merits or wisdom of the decision” but rather whether it was so irrational as to be unlawful. Full reasons will follow at a later date.
The decision is a major setback for Djokovic’s quest to win a 10th Australian Open crown and a record 21st grand slam title.
In a statement Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” with the ruling, acknowledging it meant he “cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open”.
“I respect the court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he said. “I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love.
“I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.”
Djokovic said he intended to take some time to “rest and recuperate” before making any further comment.
Serbia’s prime minister on Sunday criticised the decision to cancel the visa as “scandalous”.
Ana Brnabic told reporters in Belgrade: “I think the court decision is scandalous…I find it unbelievable that we have two completely contradictory court decisions within the span of just a few days.
“I am disappointed…I think it demonstrated how the rule of law is functioning or better to say not functioning in some other countries. In any case, I can hardly wait to see Novak Djokovic in our own country, in Serbia.”
Djokovic’s lawyers had argued Hawke’s decision was “illogical, irrational or unreasonable” and the minister based it on Djokovic’s public statements about vaccination without actually seeking his views.
The ATP called the saga “a deeply regrettable series of events.” A statement added: “Ultimately, decisions of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected. More time is required to take stock of the facts and to take the learnings from this situation.
“Irrespective of how this point has been reached, Novak is one of our sport’s greatest champions and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for the game. We know how turbulent the recent days have been for Novak and how much he wanted to defend his title in Melbourne. We wish him well and look forward to seeing him back on court soon. ATP continues to strongly recommend vaccination to all players.”
In fresh submissions overnight, Djokovic’s lawyers added that Hawke had failed to consider the impact on anti-vaccination sentiment if his visa were cancelled.
In court on Sunday, the minister’s counsel, Stephen Lloyd, argued Australia “must not be bound to suffer the presence of an alien for fear of what might happen if they were removed”.
Use of the ministerial power to cancel a visa comes with a three-year ban on re-entering Australia, except in compelling circumstances, such as compassionate or Australian national interest grounds.
Djokovic arrived in Australia on the evening of 5 January. He believed that a visa granted on 18 November and a medical exemption approved by Tennis Australia and a Victorian government independent expert panel would be sufficient to enter Australia.
Djokovic’s visa was first cancelled by Australian Border Force hours after he arrived at Melbourne airport and he was taken to a detention hotel.
On Monday a federal circuit court judge restored Djokovic’s visa, concluding it was unreasonable for the ABF to renege on a deal to give him more time at the airport to address the exemption issue.
After a week’s deliberation, Hawke cancelled Djokovic’s visa again on Friday on the new ground that his presence might be a risk to “health and good order”.
In a statement, Hawke welcomed the unanimous decision, arguing that Australia’s “strong border protection policies” had both “kept us safe during the pandemic” and “are fundamental to safeguarding Australia’s social cohesion”.
“Australians have made great sacrifices to get to this point [in the pandemic] and the Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting this position, as the Australian people expect.”
The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, welcomed “the decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe”. “It’s now time to get on with the Australian Open and get back to enjoying tennis over the summer.”
Reaction in Australia to the court result was mixed. The Labor opposition’s home affairs spokeswoman, Kristina Keneally, said the Morrison government had made itself “a laughing stock on the world stage”.
“The Morrison government’s own argument before the court was that Mr Djokovic’s visa should be cancelled because his presence here may foster anti-vaccination sentiment based on what he did and said before he was granted a visa,” Keneally said.
“This must prompt the question, why did Mr Morrison’s government grant him a visa to come to Australia in the first place?”
Australian tennis star, Nick Kyrgios, expressed disappointment with a face-palm emoji. He was one of few players who had called for Djokovic to be allowed to stay and play.