Melbourne: Members of the local Serbian community play music and dance outside the offices where Serbia’s tennis champion Novak Djokovic is in with his team of lawyers on Monday.—AFP
Melbourne: Members of the local Serbian community play music and dance outside the offices where Serbia’s tennis champion Novak Djokovic is in with his team of lawyers on Monday.—AFP

MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic returned to the tennis court on Monday for training, having won a legal battle to stay in Australia and play in the Australian Open after his exemption from strict coronavirus vaccine rules was questioned. But the government is still threatening to cancel his visa and deport him.

Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly reinstated Djokovic’s visa, which was pulled after his arrival last week because officials said he didn’t qualify for an exemption from a rule that all non-citizens be fully vaccinated. Djokovic’s lawyers say that since he recently recovered from Covid-19, he didn’t need to be inoculated, and court documents say he is not.

The judge ruled the No. 1 player had not been given enough time to speak to his lawyers before the decision was made and ordered the government to release him from a Melbourne quarantine hotel where he has spent the last four nights.

But government lawyer Christopher Tran told the judge that the immigration minister will consider whether to exercise a personal power of cancellation.

That would mean that the nine-time Australian Open winner and defending champion could again face deportation and could miss the tournament, which starts on January 17. It could also bar him from the country for three years.

Late Monday night, Djokovic tweeted out a photo that showed him and his team standing on one of the main show courts of the tournament. He was already back to training, his brother told reporters in Serbia.

“I’m pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete @AustralianOpen,” Djokovic said in the post.

The back and forth has gripped the world and caused a furor in Australia, where many initially decried the news that Djokovic, who has been a vocal sceptic of vaccines, had received an exemption from strict rules to compete in Melbourne. Many felt the star was being given special treatment since Australians who aren’t vaccinated face tough travel and quarantine restrictions. Melbourne, in particular, has faced severe restrictions and is one of the world’s most locked down cities.

But when border police then blocked the 34-year-old on arrival, others cried foul, saying he was being scapegoated by an Australian government facing criticism for its recent handling of the pandemic.

The tennis star’s brother, Djordje Djokovic said: “This is definitely politics, all this was politics.”

Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal called the controversy a circus and said he supported the decision allowing his rival to play in Mel­bourne. “Beyond me agreeing or not with Djokovic on certain things, there’s no question that justice has spoken and has said that he has the right to take part in the Australian Open,” Nadal said on Monday in an interview with Spains Onda Cero radio.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2022

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