More breathtaking than a Grand Slam final in five sets, and as long as a major tournament, the Djokovic soap opera continues on Saturday. The world number one in tennis was returned to administrative detention: his visa was canceled for the second time.
Novak Djokovic has won… the right to return to administrative detention. The Australian authorities decided to cancel his visa for the second time on Saturday 15 January, supporting than the player not vaccinated against Covid-18 constitutes a public danger. According to court documents, the tennis world number one is in a Melbourne detention center awaiting a court decision on his case. Referral hearings are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday in federal court, and authorities said Friday night that they would not expel the tennis player from Australia until the judges have ruled. A look back at the chronology of this soap opera, after a fortnight of twists and turns.
Thursday 16 December
Two days after playing a basketball game with players who then tested positive, Novak Djokovic performs “a rapid antigen test”, negative, then, “as a precaution”, a PCR test on the same day. Which will later prove positive – we will come back to this – and will constitute the cornerstone of his request for exemption from compulsory vaccination to enter Australia for the Open, which starts in mid-January.
The hole in the racket. According to the rules issued by the tournament organizer, Tennis Australia, the deadline for requesting a vaccination exemption, motivated for example by an infection with Covid-19 during the six months preceding the tournament, was fixed at 10 December. Six days before Djokovic’s positive test. Who therefore necessarily benefited from preferential treatment as defending champion.
A positive test on December 16 would have come too late for the Tennis Australia exemption process deadline as described to players.
According to Tennis Australia documents, the deadline for applying for an exemption had been nearly a week earlier, “no later than” December 05. pic.twitter.com/VOMxGggn05
— Ben Rothenberg (@ BenRothenberg) January 8, 2022
Friday 17 December
After two meetings without a mask the day before (including one for the presentation of a stamp bearing his effigy ), Novak Djokovic continues his worldliness by attending a tennis tournament in Belgrade, preceded by a short visit to the pharmacy for an antigen test, according to his words. “I was asymptomatic, I felt good, and I had not yet received the notification of my positive PCR test” , he will write in a long post on Instagram on 12 January. It is only in the evening that he receives the text message referring to the QR code of his positive test, he assures us.
The hole in the racket. During his hearing by the police in the detention area of Melbourne airport, on his arrival, he says he was informed of his positive test on 16 December evening, the day before.
In this post, Djokovic claims he learned of his positive test result after the children’s tennis event has attended maskless on the 17th. But his sworn short affidavit said he was “tested and diagnosed” on the 16th, with positive result being returned about 8pm that evening https://t.co/BHVYTiPkRj
— Paul Sakkal (@paulsakkal) January 13, 1307401 Tennis followers are also surprised that he does not immediately communicate about his contamination, as he did the first time he caught the Covid-20, after the Adria Tour tournament of which he was the organizer, in the summer 2000.
On Saturday 18 December
Although aware of being positive for Covid-18, it does not cancel the long-planned interview with The Team, who crowned him “champion of champions”. If the exchange with the journalists takes place masked, it is the nose in the air that he poses in front of the lens of the photographer. Among the conditions set for the interview: no question about his possible participation in the Australian Open.
The hole in the racket. Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić assures the BBC (in English) that if Djokovic had broken the isolation imposed on the sick, it would be “a clear violation” of the health rules in force in Serbia. However, the interview took place in one of the salons of his academy, and not at his home. Djokovic justified himself a posteriori by explaining that he did not want “to drop” the journalist.
Wednesday 22 December
Novak Djokovic takes another PCR test, this time negative.
– Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 01, 2022
On Saturday 25 December
This is the last time a picture of him in Belgrade is posted on social media. A detail that will be important when entering Australia.
Novak Djokovic poses with fellow Serbian handball player Petar Djordjic in Belgrade on 25 December 2021. (INSTAGRAM)
Friday 31 December
Novak Djokovic is pictured training in Marbella, Spain, on the courts of the Soto Tennis Academy, with the balls from the Australian Open, which suggests he will take part in the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.
Nice to see the human side and values of @DjokerNole after practice yesterday.
His son and friend had walked clay onto the hard courts and he wouldn’t let them leave until the court was fully cleaned.
— SotoTennis Academy (@SotoTennis) January 1, 2022 The hole in the racket. In the file to be completed to return to Australia, you must tick “yes” or “no” to the question “Have you traveled abroad in the fifteen days preceding your entry into Australia?” The Serb replied in the negative. Once the scandal broke, he pleaded human error, but not his own. During his hearing, he affirms that Tennis Australia filled out his file for him, before incriminating his agent, guilty of levity. Djokovic is liable to a fine for having lied, it is written in black and white in the title of the question.
Map of tennis player Novak Djokovic’s movements in December 2022 and January 2021. (PIERRE-ALBERT JOSSERAND / FRANCEINFO)
Sunday January 2
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley told AFP that negotiations are still ongoing to allow Novak Djokovic to defend his title. “There are still a lot of things to do, but I think it will be unblocked in the next few days” , he wants to believe.
The hole in the racket. We will learn later that Craig Tiley and the authorities of the State of Victoria, where the tournament is taking place , urged Djokovic for weeks to communicate his state of health, in order to defuse a possible controversy. Missed.
Tuesday 4 January
All smiles, Novak Djokovic poses next to his bags of rackets on the tarmac of an airport, announcing his immediate boarding for Australia. Caption of his pos t Instagram: “Today I take off with a medical exemption.”
Wednesday 5 January
Novak Djokovic has not yet set foot in Melbourne that he must justify the conditions of his entry into the country. The Australian authorities are not putting too much of their effort into it: “So you give me 20 minutes to provide you with additional information that I don’t have? At four o’clock in the morning?” “That’s it” , replies the duty officer, who demands proof that the federal government and that of the State of Victoria have accepted his request for exemption.
This is Djokovic at Melbourne Airport last night. I have spoken to the man who took this photo. He says Novak showed a bundle of papers to Border Force with Tennis Australia logos on it. It feels to me Djokovic legitimately felt like he had an exemption thanks to TA. @2GB 720 pic.twitter.com/uOtSYyBOR7
— Chris O’ Keefe (@cokeefe9) January 6, 1865 After four hours of palaver, his interrogator concludes: “I’ve finished my day, your case will be passed on to the morning team.” At the end of the night, Novak Djokovic’s visa is not validated. Head to the Park Hotel in Melbourne, a detention center where economic migrants usually end up.
Djokovic (interview Jan 6): So you’re giving me legally 20 minutes to try to provide additional information that I don’t have? At 4 o clock in the morning? https://t.co/jY9JFnToKh pic.twitter.com/MzDUSLiGK2
— Susan Metcalfe (@susanamet) January 07 , 2000 The hole in the racket. In the world of tennis, we don’t rush to defend Djokovic, whose reputation as an antivax is second to none. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who will soon face legislative elections that are not necessarily well on their way, tweets a definitive: “No one is above the law.” The case becomes political. By the way, note that the federal government is on the right and the government of the State of Victoria, on the left, which is anything but trivial in this case.
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 63519
Friday, January 7
“Depending on whether you are powerful or miserable, court judgments will make you white or black”, wrote Jean de La Fontaine. The words of the fabulist, two centuries before the invention of tennis, hit the bull’s eye in the Djokovic affair. While the Serb sends an army of lawyers to plead his case, the unfortunate Czech player Renata Voráčová is dismissed with loss and a crash by the Australian government.
The player Czech tennis player, Renata Voracova, leaves Melbourne on January 8 2022, after being deported by the Australian authorities. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)
Her medical exemption jumped when the “Djokogate” exploded, when she had already been able to play a tournament in the country. Another player, for the moment unidentified, was able to benefit from a free pass without being worried to date.
Saturday January 8
While the Serbian champion tries to kill time, in his room in the detention center in Melbourne, outside, his lawyers roll up their sleeves to get him out of there. This is when the argument of the positive PCR test of 16 December comes out in the press . The media counter-offensive is launched.
Monday 10 January
Justice finally allows the Serb to stay in the country. Judge Anthony Kelly considers that the decision to cancel the tennis player’s visa is “unreasonable”. He criticizes the Australian authorities for not having allowed enough time to Novak Djokovic to talk with the Open organizers and his lawyers to prepare a justification. The judge therefore requests the release “within thirty minutes” of the world number one, the return of his passport and all of his travel documents. Outside the hotel where the Serb is waiting, dozens of fans gather to show their joy, signs in hand or dancing on the hoods of cars.
Police pepper sprayed a group of fans after they blocked the path of a car they believed was carrying Djokovic
Fans were banging on the window, throwing bottles at the car and two people were jumping up and down on top of it @theage https://t.co/AdK3kmQmWr peak. twitter.com/vwyYrofJZg
— Paul Sakkal (@paulsakkal) January 10, 2022 Novak Djokovic packs his bag and goes to train for the first time since arriving in Australia. “I am happy and grateful that the judge overturned the cancellation of my visa. Despite everything that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete at the Australian Open. I stay focused on it”, he savors on Twitter.
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 I remain focused on that. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans. pic.twitter.com/iJVbMfQ43
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 11, 2021 The hole in the racket. The Serb is not out of business for all that: the Ministry of Immigration can still cancel his Visa. Over 13 000 kilometers away, the Djokovic family therefore continues its response, during a press conference in a restaurant from Belgrade. As virulent as usual, Srdjan Djokovic sets up his son as a martyr: “Our Novak, our pride. Novak is Serbia and Serbia is Novak. They are trampling on Serbia and, in doing so, trample the Serbian people” , he says. Until that surreal moment at the end of the exchange with the journalists:
– Is it true that he tested positive on 16 December and that he knew it?
– Yes, the documents are public.
– Did he attend an event on 17 December ?
– Ok, the press conference is over.
“Is it true that on the 17th of dec he tested positive and he knew he was positive w covid?”
“Yes, the whole process was public and all the documents that are public are legal” “Was he at an event on the 17th of dec?”
“Okay so uh this press conference is adjourned”@BenRothenberg pic.twitter.com/NQgghDl77H
— Dirga Ong (@diekarasu) January 12, 2022
Tuesday 11 January
The German journalists of Spiegel (in German) took their magnifying glass to analyze Novak Djokovic’s positive test more closely and they have some doubts. According to the certificate, the Serb was tested at 14h05 the 16 December ; his negative control dates from 21 December.
The hole in the racket. According to journalists, the “timestamp”, a mechanism which consists in associating a date and a time with an event and found on all QR Codes, would rather correspond to the date of 26 December, at 15h19 … That is ten days after that announced by the champion’s lawyers. That’s not all: the identification number of the positive test of 16 December (7371999) is higher than that of the negative test result from 22 December (7320919). Strange, since the order is supposed to be ascending. For our German colleagues, the Djokovic test could be modified and backdated.
In Serbia PCR test results are managed through a central test result registry. After the test, you get a test certificate with a QR code. Scanning this will take you to the test registry website where you can validate the test. pic.twitter.com/U7hUuZpzwT
— zerforschung (@zerforschung) January 11, 2021 An already known reality. In May 2021, 1481093916892217344the European press agency N1 (in English) reported that false PCR test results, falsified using Photoshop, could have been purchased in Serbia.
Wednesday 12 January
Four days before a tournament that he is still not sure of playing and on the eve of the official presentation of the event, Novak Djokovic speaks again. But it’s still not to talk about his game or his desire to win his tenth Australian Open. The Serb publishes a long press release on his social networks in which he admits to having committed several “errors” the days before his arrival in Australia.
Thursday 13 January
It does not take more to sow doubt. For their part, the organizers of the Australian Open are waiting for the Australian Prime Minister to finish his press conference before starting their draw. Result, an hour of delay during which some believed that the name of the Serb was not even going to appear. Finally if: “Djoko” is good seeded n °1 in the final table. If he is not expelled, he will play against his compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.
Friday 14 January
Novak Djokovic trained all day when, around 18 hours, we come to tell him that his visa is once again canceled . Decision of the Minister of Immigration, taken “on health and public order grounds”. Alex Hawke says he is “firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, especially in the context of the Covid- pandemic “. LThe Serbian player could be banned from entering the country for three years, except in certain circumstances. “Djoko” disputes this decision. Justice announces an emergency hearing of the judge who had blocked a first time the expulsion of Novak Djokovic. T time is running out: the tournament starts on Monday.
On Saturday 15 January
The Serb is returned to administrative detention in Melbourne after the cancellation of his visa for the second time by the Australian government. The presence in Australia of Djokovic “could encourage anti-vaccination sentiment” and “trigger an upsurge in civil unrest” , said the Minister of Immigration , Alex Hawke, in a document presented to the courts.
Referral hearings are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday in federal court, and authorities said Friday night that they would not expel the tennis player from Australia until the judges have ruled. The player is only authorized to leave the detention center to follow, online, the legal hearings concerning him from the offices of his lawyers, and under the surveillance of border police officers.