MELBOURNE: Australia returned Novak Djokovic to detention on Saturday, saying the tennis star’s opposition to vaccination could cause “civil unrest” and triggering a high-profile court showdown.

Having once failed to remove the unvaccinated 34-year-old from the country, Australia’s conservative government is trying again. And Djokovic is fighting back for the second time, with a new court appeal scheduled for Sunday.

The case will be heard from 9.30am by the full Federal Court of three justices, a format that leaves little room to appeal any decision.

For now, the Serbian ace is back at a notorious Melbourne immigration detention facility after a few short-lived days of freedom following his first successful court appeal.

A motorcade was spotted moving from his lawyers’ offices — where he had been kept under guard for most of Saturday — to the former Park Hotel facility.

For millions around the world, the Serbian star is best known as a gangly all-conquering tennis champion with a ferocious backhand and his anti-vaccine stance.

In court filings, Australia has cast him as a figurehead for anti-vaxxers and a catalyst for potential “civil unrest” who must be removed in the public interest.

Djokovic’s presence in Aust­ralia “may foster anti-vaccination sentiment”, immigration min­ister Alex Hawke argued, justifying his use of broad executive powers to revoke the ace’s visa. Not only could Djokovic encourage people to flout health rules, Hawke said, but his presence could lead to “civil unrest”.

So with just two days before the Australian Open begins, the defending champion is again focused on law courts rather than centre court.

After months of speculation about whether Djokovic would get vaccinated to play in Australia, he used a medical exemption to enter the country a week ago, hoping to challenge for a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Open.

Amid public outcry, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government revoked Djokovic’s visa on arrival.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2022

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