Australian authorities canceled the world’s No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic’s visa on Thursday after failing to provide adequate evidence of his exemption from mandatory vaccination regulations for foreigners, officials said.
The decision came after the Serbian player was questioned by federal officials overnight at a Melbourne airport, amid widespread anger down under, that he had been granted a medical exemption from the COVID vaccination to play at the Australian Open.
“The visa for Novak Djokovic has been canceled,” said Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on the Australian breakfast news show sunrise. “This of course follows a review of the exemption provided by the Victorian government process. You looked at the integrity and the evidence for it. “
“It is up to him to appeal, but if a visa is canceled someone has to leave the country,” he added.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decision was made out of a desire to remain vigilant in the pandemic.
A source told BuzzFeed News that Djokovic and his coaching team were still at the airport and wanted to appeal, but didn’t expect any success.
“They assume they will be on the return flight home later that day,” the source said.
The top ranked individual tennis player with a record 21. Aiming for Grand Slam title was questioned by border officials for several hours after landing late Wednesday in Australian time.
According to Reuters, his father told Serbian media that the player was forced to wait alone in a room at the airport under armed guard until a final decision was made.
“Not the most common trip to Down Under,” Djokovic coach Goran Ivanisevic posted on Instagram around 5 a.m. from the airport.
Djokovic’s beliefs and behavior have made headlines throughout the pandemic. In April 2020, he said he was against vaccines and does not want to get a vaccination in order to travel. Just months later, he and his wife tested positive for COVID after organizing and playing exhibition games that violated social distancing recommendations. In October 2021, he said questions about his vaccination status were “inappropriate”.
The tournament’s defending champion surprised many on Tuesday when he posted on social media that he had been given an “exemption” to travel to Australia. However, as Melbourne’s Age newspaper first reported, it was not clear whether Djokovic had provided sufficient evidence for his reason for exemption.
Under Australian law, foreign nationals entering the country must have a visa and be fully vaccinated. Tennis Australia and officials in Victoria, where Melbourne is located, made similar demands on players who wanted to compete in the Open without first undergoing a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
But Australian vaccination officials had outlined some temporary vaccination waivers for their citizens, which included people who had a PCR-confirmed case of COVID in the past six months. It’s not clear if these apply to foreigners wishing to enter Australia, but tennis officials had pointed out these exceptions in their decision to allow Djokovic to participate.
The fact that Djokovic was granted an exemption to play in Melbourne, which survived one of the longest bans in the world as Australia tried to zero COVID cases before widespread vaccination, sparked a massive outcry in the country.
Tennis and Victorian officials stressed that his application had gone through a “double” review process, but large sections of the Australian public and media railed against the decision.
“I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he refuses to be vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in, ”former Australian Medical Association Vice President Stephen Parnis wrote on Twitter.
Asked about the tennis player’s exemption at a press conference Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters that Djokovic had to provide “acceptable evidence” to support his claim that he could not be vaccinated for medical reasons.
“We are waiting for his presentation and what evidence he will give us to support this,” said Morrison. “If that evidence isn’t enough, he won’t be treated any differently from anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home.”
On Wednesday, Morrison’s government announced that it would have a say in whether Djokovic would be allowed into the country.
“While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia can allow an unvaccinated player to participate in the Australian Open, the Commonwealth government will enforce our requirements on the Australian border,” said Home Secretary Karen Andrews in a statement titled “Australia’s border rules apply to Everyone.”
“No one competing at the Australian Open is given special treatment,” said Andrews.
Hunt, the health minister, said the rules are tough but fair. “Australians have had to make it tough,” said Hunt, “and Australians in many different states and territories have in some cases had to show their vaccination cards to go into premises and cafes and other things, and it’s not unreasonable to have the exact same thing. ” Requirement for everyone who enters this country. “