MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic’s lawyers filed court papers on Saturday in his challenge against deportation from Australia that show the tennis star tested positive for Covid-19 last month and recovered, grounds he used in applying for a medical exemption to the country’s strict vaccination rules.
The top-ranked Djokovic was denied entry at the Melbourne airport late on Wednesday after border officials cancelled his visa for failing to meet its entry requirement that all non-citizens be fully vaccinated for Covid-19.
Djokovic was given a medical exemption backed by the Victoria state government and Australian Open organisers on Jan 1, based on information he supplied to two independent medical panels, and he was approved for a visa electronically.
But it has since emerged that the Victoria state medical exemption, allowed for people who tested positive for the coronavirus within the last six months, was deemed invalid by the federal border authorities.
Djokovic has been confined to an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne, where he’s been preparing for the legal challenge against his visa cancellation in the Federal Circuit Court on Monday.
The Australian Open starts Jan 17. Djokovic is the defending champion and has won the Australian Open men’s singles title nine times. He has 20 Grand Slam singles title, a men’s record he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. and the Australian Associated Press reported details of the documents late on Saturday. It showed Djokovic received a letter from Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer on Dec 30 that he had been provided with a medical exemption from Covid vaccination on the grounds that he had recently recovered from Covid.
The exemption certification said the date of the 34-year-old Serb’s first positive test was Dec 16, and that he had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms in the past 72 hours.
Djokovic attended a Dec 17 event in Belgrade honouring young tennis players. The event was covered by local media, and parents posted photos on social media showing Djokovic and the children not wearing masks. It’s not clear if Djokovic knew the results of his test at the time.
On Dec 14, Djokovic had attended a Euroleague basketball game between Red Star and Barcelona in a packed sports hall in Belgrade. He was photographed hugging several players of both teams, including some who soon later tested positive.
The court submission on Saturday said Djokovic received confirmation from Australia’s Department of Home Affairs saying that his travel declaration had been assessed and that his responses indicated he met the requirements for quarantine-free arrival in Australia.
The federal court has ordered Home Affairs to file its response by Sunday.
Djokovic’s court filing confirmed a media report that he had asked to be moved to lodgings with access to a tennis court but that his request was denied. The Park Hotel, where he is staying, is also home to dozens of asylum seekers trying to enter the country.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the player had been provided with gluten-free food, tools to exercise and a sim card.
“He’s staying in Park Hotel until the final decision is made,” Brnabic told Serbian media. “We’ve managed to make sure gluten-free food is delivered to him, as well as exercising tools, a laptop and a sim card so that he is able to be in contact with his family.
“It’s a positive tone from the Australian side. The Serbian government is ready to provide all the guarantees necessary for Novak to be allowed to enter Australia, the Serbian president [Aleksandar Vucic] is also involved.”
Djokovic’s filing said he had expressed “shock, “surprise” and “confusion” when he was held overnight, and had a bed prepared near his airport interview room so he could rest while waiting until the morning when he would be able to reach legal representatives and Tennis Australia, the filing says.
Customs officers ultimately “pressured” Djokovic to undertake an interview before he had spoken to either, the filing said.
Tennis Australia said it never knowingly misled players and had always urged players to be vaccinated, after News Corp papers published a document from the organising body apparently advising players on ways to enter the country with a medical exemption from vaccination.
“We have always been consistent in our communications to players that vaccination is the best course of action — not just as the right thing to do to protect themselves and others, but also as the best course of action to ensure they could arrive in Australia,” Tennis Australia said in a statement quoted by local media. “We reject completely that the playing group was knowingly misled.”
Tennis Australia’s advice was based on the contents of a federal government website to which it had been referred by the federal health minister, the statement added.
In an internal video leaked on Saturday, Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley said his organisation had done “everything they possibly could”.
“There is a lot... of blaming going on but I can assure you our team has done an unbelievable job,” he said in a video published by the Sunday Herald Sun newspaper.
Meanwhile Czech player Renata Voracova, who was also detained in the same detention hotel as Djokovic and had her visa revoked after issues with her exemption, was seen by reporters leaving the hotel in a van on Saturday evening.
Her destination was not immediately clear, but she told Czech media earlier that she was still waiting to leave the country after deciding not to appeal the decision.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2022