SYDNEY: With so much focus on getting the medical exemption he needed to fly into Melbourne to defend his Australian Open title, it seems Novak Djokovic may not have paid enough to attention to his visa.

The medical exemption allowed the top-ranked Djokovic entry to the tournament regardless of his vaccination status for Covid-19, a subject he has declined to clarify amid months of speculation he could miss the season-opening major unless he can prove he’s had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

But it wasn’t everything he needed to enter Australia, which has strict border regulations in place for the pandemic.

Melbourne’s The Age newspaper reported that Djokovic had landed Wednesday before midnight local time at Tullamarine Airport, but his entry was delayed because of a mistake with his visa application. Two hours later, local media reported he still hadn’t cleared the border.

Speculation of a possible issue with the visa emerged while Djokovic was in transit and escalated with mixed messages from federal and state lawmakers.

Djokovic’s revelation on social media that he was heading to Australia seeking a record 21st major title sparked some debate and plenty of headlines on Wednesday, with critics questioning what grounds the nine-time Australian Open champion could have for the exemption and backers defending his right to privacy and freedom of choice.

Tournament chief Craig Tiley said the defending champion had been given “no special favour” but urged him to reveal why he got the exemption to soothe public anger.

All participants at the first Grand Slam of 2022, which starts on January 17, must be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a medical exemption, which is granted only after assessment by two panels of independent experts.

Djokovic announced late Tuesday he was en route to Melbourne with “an exemption permission”, ending the drawn-out saga over whether he would defend his title.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that if the reasons for Djokovic’s exemption were “insufficient” then the Serb would be “on the next plane home”.

“There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever,” he told a news conference.

Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews warned that anyone entering the country must comply with strict border requirements.

“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,” she said in a statement.

“No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment.”

Concerns about Djokovic’s visa status took a while to circulate.

The Age newspaper said the federal Border Force had contacted the Victoria state government asking if it would support his application after his team applied for the wrong kind of visa.

While not confirming the reason, acting Victoria Sports Minister Jaala Pulford said: “The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovics visa application to enter Australia.

“We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.”

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2022

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