MELBOURNE: The Australian government hit back hard at tennis star Novak Djokovic’s assertion that he was assured entry with a medical exemption from coronavirus vaccine requirements, pointing out in court papers filed on Sunday that no foreigner has a guaranteed right to enter the country.
“There is no such thing as an assurance of entry by a non-citizen into Australia. Rather, there are criteria and conditions for entry, and reasons for refusal or cancellation of a visa,” the government said in a filing ahead of a court hearing on the case on Monday.
Djokovic, the world number one, is hoping to win his 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, which starts in Melbourne on Jan 17. But instead of training, the Serbian player has been confined in a hotel used for asylum seekers and is challenging the decision to cancel his visa after being stopped on arrival at Melbourne Airport early on Thursday.
Djokovic, a vocal opponent of Covid-19 vaccine mandates, said in a filing to the court on Saturday that he been granted an exemption from vaccination due to having had the virus in December.
His lawyers said he had the necessary permissions to enter Australia, including an assessment from the Department of Home Affairs that responses on his travel declaration form indicated he met the conditions for quarantine-free arrival. The government disputed this.
It said the department’s email was not an assurance “that his so-called ‘medical exemption’ would be accepted”, and his responses could be questioned and verified on his arrival.
The government also challenged Djokovic’s claim for a medical exemption on the basis he had contracted Covid-19 in mid-December and had recovered two weeks later.
“There is no suggestion that the applicant had “acute major medical illness” in December 2021. All he has said is that he tested positive for Covid-19. This is not the same,” the filing said.
French newspaper L’Equipe published a photograph of the player taken when he was named the daily’s Champion of Champions in the days after he said in the court filing he had tested positive for coronavirus, Dec 16. Other photographs published on social media showed him appearing at functions in Serbia on dates soon after that test.
It was not clear if Djokovic knew of his positive test at the time of the events shown in the pictures.
Djokovic, 34, has won the Australian Open nine times and the drama over his refused entry has caused a furore in sporting circles, sparked tensions between Serbia and Australia and become a flashpoint for opponents of vaccine mandates around the world.
Djokovic’s lawyers will have up to two hours to present their case from 10 a.m. (2300 GMT on Sunday) on Monday, while the government department gets two hours to present its defence from 3 p.m. The case is being heard by the Federal Circuit and Family Court.
Djokovic was one of two players put into detention in the hotel. A third person, reported to be an official, left the country voluntarily after border force investigations.
The other player was 38-year-old doubles specialist Renata Vorov, who had already been in Australia for a week before an investigation by the border officials. The Czech foreign ministry said Vorov voluntarily left Australia after deciding not to appeal the decision.
Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley on Sunday defended his organisation from criticism that it failed to warn players that a previous infection did not qualify them for entry without a Covid-19 vaccination.
“We are not going to lay the blame on anyone because there is much contradictory information,” Tiley told Channel Nine, which broadcasts the Australian Open.
Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2022