Novak Djokovic returns to detention in Australia

World tennis number one Novak Djokovic was returned to administrative detention on Saturday in Melbourne after the cancellation of his visa for the second time by the Australian government, which maintains that the player who has not been vaccinated against Covid-19 constitutes a public danger.

This new episode of a saga which began on January 5, when Djokovic was turned back on his arrival in Melbourne, makes more more unlikely a participation of the 34 year old Serb in the Australian Open, which starts on Monday. Djokovic is seeking a 10e victory in this tournament, which would constitute a 21e record Grand Slam title.

Saturday, the tennis player Spaniard Rafael Nadal lashed out at his rival, saying ‘the Australian Open is way more important than any player’, while saying he ‘disagrees with a lot of things he says has done in the last two weeks”.

A few hours earlier, the Minister of Immigration, Alex Hawke had estimated in a document presented to the courts that the presence in Australia of Djokovic “could encourage the anti-vaccination sentiment” and “trigger an upsurge in civil unrest”.

According to court documents, Novak Djokovic, who had been summoned in the morning by the immigration services, was on Saturday in a Melbourne detention center pending a court decision on his case.

Referral hearings are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday before a Court federal, and the authorities indicated Friday evening that they would not expel the tennis player from Australia before the judges have decided.

The player is not authorized to leave the center of detention only to follow, online, the legal hearings concerning him from the offices of his lawyers, and under the surveillance of border police officers.

This is the second time that the Australian government is trying to drive Djokovic out of the country.

“Nole”, a notorious vaccine-skeptic, had been blocked on his arrival in Australia on January 5 and placed in administrative detention for the first time. The player, who contracted the Covid-19 in December, hoped to benefit from an exemption to enter the country without being vaccinated, but the authorities did not accept this explanation.

The Australian government suffered a humiliating setback on January 10 when a judge blocked Djokovic’s deportation, reinstated his visa and ordered his immediate release. The Serb was then able to resume his training for the Australian Open.

Finally, the Minister of Immigration canceled his visa again on Friday under his discretionary power and ” on health and public order bases”, a measure difficult to challenge in court.

– “Health risk” –

In its conclusions filed on Saturday before the Court, the minister argued that Djokovic’s presence in the country “is likely to pose a health risk to the Australian community”, as he says it fosters anti-vaccination sentiment and could deter Australians from getting their doses of the drug injected. recall, while the Omicron variant continues to spread at high speed.

While admitting that the risk of Djokovic infecting Australians himself is “negligible”, the minister estimated that his past “contempt” of health rules against Covid is a bad example, and therefore a risk for public health.

The Minister “does not cite any evidence” in support of his arguments, retorted the player’s lawyers.

In a press release published on Wednesday on social networks, Djokovic had admitted to having filled out his declaration of entry into Australia incorrectly, and not having respected the rules of isolation after having tested positive for Covid in December.

The champion, seen in Serbia and Spain in the two weeks before his arrival, contrary to what he stated in the immigration form upon his arrival, pleaded “human error”.

The dreams of a 10e title in Melbourne are all the more distant as this cancellation of visa, if it is confirmed by justice, implies that Djokovic will be banned from entering the country for three years, except in exceptional circumstances.

This series of twists and turns around the tennis champion takes place in a country whose inhabitants have endured for nearly two years of some of the toughest anti-Covid restrictions in the world, and where elections are due by May. Hence a charged political context. Pressure has intensified around Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, accused of “incompetence” by the Labor opposition.

The saga is also being followed assiduously in Serbia, where politicians are erecting the star as a national hero. On Friday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic backed the player again, accusing Australia of “mistreating” him.