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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - MELBOURNE — Tennis star Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for a second time.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said on Friday that he had used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds three days before the Australian Open is to begin.
The decision was taken "on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so", the minister said in a statement.
The government was "firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic", he added.
As things stand, the decision paves the way for the men's world No. 1 — who is not vaccinated against the coronavirus — to be barred from bidding for a 10th Australian title and a record 21st Grand Slam win next week.
However, Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal against the decision in the Federal Circuit and Family Court as they successfully did after the first cancellation.
A car thought to be carrying the player was seen arriving at his lawyer's offices in Melbourne on Friday following the decision, AP reports.
The controversy over the player's visa, his vaccination status and his treatment by the Australian authorities has completely overshadowed the tournament in the days leading up to the event.
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed Djokovic's pending deportation, linking it directly to the country's experience with the pandemic.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said in a statement. “This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today.”
For Djokovic, more is at stake than this year's tournament: deportations from Australia usually come with a three-year-ban on returning to the country.
It is the second time Djokovic’s visa has been canceled since he arrived in Melbourne last week to defend his Australian Open title.
His exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to compete was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, the tournament organizer. That apparently allowed him to receive a visa to travel.
But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa upon arrival in Melbourne. He spent four nights in hotel detention before a judge on Monday overturned that decision.
The government's decision to revoke his visa again comes more than a week after Djokovic first arrived in the country. Since a court declared the first visa cancellation invalid, the player has been training in Melbourne for next week's tournament.
On Thursday Djokovic, the defending champion, was included in the draw for the first round of the Australian Open as the top seed — even though his participation was still in doubt with a government decision pending on whether the unvaccinated tennis star could stay in the country.
There was speculation that the information Djokovic revealed after the first court decision could tip the balance against him. The immigration minister said in his statement that he decided to revoke the visa after considering information provided by the government, the Australian Border Force, and the player.
Earlier this week Djokovic admitted errors made on his visa application form concerning his prior travel movements. The player also apologized for failing to isolate following a positive COVID test in December.
At issue was whether his exemption to the rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia, on the grounds that he had recently recovered from COVID-19, was valid.
Djokovic's application said he had not traveled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia. However, the Monte Carlo-based athlete had been seen in Spain and Serbia in that two-week period.
The player said it had been submitted on his behalf by his support team and that his agent had apologized for what was a "human error" and "not deliberate".
Reports also emerged that Djokovic attended events in his native Serbia last month after testing positive on Dec. 16, including presenting awards to children the following day, as well as giving an in-person interview to a French magazine.
The Djokovic saga comes against the background of the pandemic, where new coronavirus cases have again been soaring, putting pressure on hospitals. Capacity at the Australian Open has been restricted to 50%.
Many people feel strongly that to allow an unvaccinated, high-profile figure such as Djokovic to play, while ordinary Australians — particularly in Melbourne — have been subject to stringent restrictions including on travel, would be unfair and set an appalling example.
Yet many have also criticized the player's treatment by the authorities overall as a fiasco — with the tennis and state authorities granting him an exemption, border control and the government then revoking his visa, a court reinstating it, and finally the minister canceling it again.
"What a surprise! Morrison’s govt cancels #Djokovic’s visa to win the weekend media cycle—showing us all how hairy chested he is," tweeted former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
The latest decision makes a mockery of the draw for the tournament, carried out only the day before — and puts Djokovic in a race against time to challenge it.
Melbourne-based immigration lawyer Kian Bone said Djokovic’s lawyers face an “extremely difficult” task to get court orders over the weekend to allow their client to play next week.
“For Djokovic to get the outcomes he needs to play would be extremely difficult to obtain over the weekend,” Bone said. Hawke’s delay in reaching a decision bordered on punitive, Bone said.
“If you left it any later than he has done now, I think from a strategic standpoint he’s (Hawke’s) really hamstringing Djokovic’s legal team, in terms of what sort of options or remedies he could obtain,” Bone said hours before the decision was announced. — Euronews
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