Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1-ranked males’s tennis participant, traveled all day Wednesday from Dubai to Australia, a journey that was supposed to start his protection of the Australian Open singles championship.
On Thursday, he was informed he would wish to go away the nation, following a 10-hour standoff with authorities officers at a Melbourne airport, the place he was held in a room in a single day over the validity of his visa and questions concerning the proof supporting a medical exemption from a coronavirus vaccine. The exemption was supposed to permit Djokovic, a 20-time Grand Slam event champion and one of many greatest stars in sports activities, to compete within the Australian Open regardless that he has not been vaccinated.
It was not instantly clear whether or not Djokovic would enchantment the ruling in Australia’s courts. A spokesman for the tennis star didn’t instantly reply to requests for remark.
The chain of occasions represented a startling turnabout for Djokovic, who in a bit greater than 24 hours went from receiving particular, last-minute permission to enter Australia, to boarding an intercontinental flight, to basically being informed by the prime minister of Australia that he was not welcome within the nation.
At one level President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia even received concerned, talking with Djokovic and criticizing the Australian authorities for its remedy of his nation’s greatest sports activities star.
The pandemic has wreaked all method of havoc with sports activities through the previous two years. The Tokyo Summer Olympics had been postponed for a 12 months. Major occasions befell in empty stadiums. Star gamers have been despatched into isolation simply forward of their competitions after testing optimistic for the virus.
The state of affairs involving Djokovic, probably the most polarizing figures in tennis, was a match for any of them. It turned on a confrontation between a sports activities famous person and probably the most highly effective chief in one of many world’s most affluent international locations, the place authorities officers, residents, the media and even some fellow gamers criticized the exemption, seemingly prompting the sudden shift.
The determination guarantees to grow to be one other flashpoint within the debate about vaccines and the way the pandemic ought to be managed now, particularly in Australia, the place egalitarianism is taken into account a sacred precept — and the place “the tennis,” because the Open is named, can be beloved by what usually looks like a complete nation of sports activities fanatics.
In a statement Thursday, the Australian Border Force pledged to “continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements. The ABF can confirm that Mr. Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently canceled.”
For Djokovic, it was the most recent and arguably probably the most wrenching controversy in a profession that has been full of them, almost all of which have been introduced on by the habits of a champion who will be as willful and unbending off the court docket as he’s on it.
Djokovic has by no means been shy about expressing his nontraditional views of science and drugs (he as soon as voiced help for the concept prayer and perception may purify poisonous water), and he has acknowledged on a number of events his opposition to vaccine mandates, saying vaccination is a non-public and private determination that shouldn’t be mandated. However, he had not revealed till this week whether or not he had been vaccinated.
On Tuesday, he announced on Twitter that he had obtained a medical exemption from the requirement that each one folks coming into Australia be vaccinated or quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. He later boarded a airplane sure for Australia from Dubai.
In a press release later that day, Craig Tiley, the chief govt of Tennis Australia, defined that gamers looking for an exemption needed to go muster with two panels of medical specialists. The course of included the redaction of non-public info to make sure privateness.
“Fair and independent protocols were established for assessing medical exemption applications that will enable us to ensure Australian Open 2022 is safe and enjoyable for everyone,” Tiley mentioned. “Central to this process was that the decisions were made by independent medical experts and that every applicant was given due consideration.”
Tiley mentioned Wednesday in a tv interview that 26 gamers had utilized for an exemption and “a handful” had been granted. According to Tiley, 99 p.c of the greater than 3,000 folks coming to Australia for the event had been vaccinated. The handful who had been granted an exemption both had a medical situation or had Covid-19 through the previous six months.
Djokovic landed at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport round 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday. By then, he had grow to be the central determine in a firestorm over how he had obtained permission to enter Australia, which is experiencing a startling rise in coronavirus instances.
The nation has waged probably the most profitable battles towards Covid-19, but it surely has come at a steep price. Strict lockdowns have lasted for months. International borders had been largely closed till not too long ago. Inbound vacationers needed to adhere to an costly, two-week quarantine upon arrival. For lengthy durations, even home travel between states was prohibited. The nation has skilled about 2,200 deaths, however since opening its borders late final 12 months it’s now coping with greater than 30,000 cases a day.
As Djokovic flew to Melbourne, Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, invoked the federal government’s authority to disclaim entry to Djokovic.
“Any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,” Morrison mentioned.
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The international surge. The coronavirus is spreading quicker than ever initially of 2022, however the final days of 2021 introduced the encouraging news that the Omicron variant produces less severe illness than earlier waves. As such, governments are focusing extra on increasing vaccination than limiting the unfold.
“We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that,” Morrison added. “If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.”
Also Wednesday, Jaala Pulford, the appearing sports activities minister for the state of Victoria, which incorporates Melbourne, website of the Open, mentioned the state authorities wouldn’t help Djokovic’s utility for a visa. Pulford wrote on Twitter that “visa approvals are a matter for the federal government.”
Her assertion adopted the feedback of Australia’s minister for house affairs, Karen Andrews, who had launched a press release that famous the federal government had the authority to dam Djokovic from coming into the nation. In a press release headlined “Australia’s Border Rules Apply to Everyone,” Andrews mentioned that “while the Victorian Government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth Government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border.”
“No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment,” Andrews mentioned.
“I think if it was me that wasn’t vaccinated I wouldn’t be getting an exemption,” Jamie Murray of Britain mentioned on Tuesday.
Others criticized the Australian authorities for bungling the method and mistreating the world’s top-ranked participant.
Tennys Sandgren, the American skilled participant who can be towards a vaccination mandate, acknowledged on Twitter that “Australia doesn’t deserve to host a Grand Slam.”
Djokovic, who’s tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for probably the most Grand Slam males’s singles titles with 20, would have been a favourite to win his 21st in Melbourne, the place he has prevailed 9 occasions. Melbourne has a small however energetic neighborhood of Serbian expatriates, who attend all of Djokovic’s matches at Rod Laver Arena, the Open’s fundamental court docket, and supply him with uncommon enthusiastic help away from his homeland, regardless of his stature as arguably the best participant ever.
While the lads’s and girls’s skilled excursions don’t require a vaccination, tennis officers are on the mercy of the native, state and nationwide governments in energy the place tournaments are held. It is feasible that Djokovic may face these circumstances at different competitions if international locations require a vaccine for entry or an area authorities requires one for work.
The French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, which occur in late spring and summer time, have but to announce whether or not a vaccine might be required.
Andrew Das, Isabella Kwai, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Damien Cave contributed reporting.