Australia cancels Novak Djokovic visa for second time as tennis star is deported

Australia cancels Novak Djokovic visa for second time as tennis star is deported

Novak Djokovic faces possible deportation from Australia after the country’s immigration minister revoked the unvaccinated tennis star’s visa for a second time on Friday, citing public health concerns.

The decision is the latest twist in a saga that has made headlines worldwide and has become a flashpoint in the debate over Covid-19 vaccination mandates. It could end the Serb’s bid for a record 21st major title at the Australian Open tournament, which opens Monday.

Djokovic’s lawyers rushed into action to request a ban that would prevent him from being forced to leave the country. The Australian government has ordered that he return to immigration detention at 8 a.m. local time on Saturday (4 p.m. ET Friday), albeit with permission to meet with his lawyers at their office.

In a court hearing hours after the decision was announced, which was watched by nearly 60,000 people on YouTube, Judge Anthony Kelly said he would work to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

Novak Djokovic during a practice session in Melbourne on Friday.Martin Keep / AFP – Getty Images

In a decision likely to have wide-ranging sporting and diplomatic implications, Immigration Secretary Alex Hawke said in a statement early Friday that he had used his discretionary power to revoke the visa “on the basis that it public interest was to do so”.

The government is “determined to protect Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Hawke added.

Earlier this week, 34-year-old Djokovic had his visa restored by Kelly, who ordered his release after days in immigration detention.

Men’s tennis No. 1 had its visa revoked for the first time last week after his claim for a medical exemption was rejected by border officials when he arrived in Melbourne. But Djokovic won a legal appeal that allowed him to stay and practice in the country, even as the threat of deportation loomed over his head.

If Djokovic’s attempt to stay in Australia fails after this second cancellation, he may not be able to apply for a visa for three years.

NBC News has reached out to Djokovic’s representatives for comment.

Djokovic admitted on Wednesday that his travel form to enter Australia contained a false statement and that he had not immediately isolated himself after testing positive for the coronavirus in Serbia last month, adding to scrutiny by Australian officials and the world media.

The country’s strict border rules require all non-Australian arrivals to be vaccinated before entering the country. All Australian Open players, staff, officials and fans must also be fully vaccinated to enter the tournament venue.

Lawsuits earlier this week confirmed the tennis star has not been vaccinated, but Djokovic claimed he was given a medical exemption to enter the country after he was diagnosed with Covid-19 in Serbia last month and has since recovered.

Djokovic spent four days in immigration detention among asylum seekers and undocumented migrants awaiting a ruling on his visa appeal. The court’s ruling Monday did not rule on whether his reason for the medical exemption was valid.

Tournament organizers were still in the draw for Djokovic on Thursday as he remained in limbo, although it was postponed due to uncertainty.

The top-class player continued to train at the Rod Laver Arena as he focused on tennis and his bid to become the all-time leader in the Grand Slam titles in men’s singles.

The Djokovic saga has outraged many Australians as the omicron variant sparked a new wave of cases in the country after months of severe restrictions on public movement.

The furore has shocked the tennis world and overshadowed the build-up to the Australian Open, putting the sport at the center of the global debate over government restrictions to fight the pandemic.

It has also sparked strong support for Djokovic in his native Serbia, where his family and the country’s leaders have criticized Australia’s treatment of the national sporting icon.

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