Australian, Serbian leaders discuss Novak Djokovic visa

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – The Australian and Serbian Prime Ministers discussed Novak Djokovic’s precarious visa on Tuesday after the top-ranked Serbian tennis star won a legal battle to compete in the Australian Open but still faces to the threat of deportation because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

The deportation drama polarized opinions and garnered strong support for the 20-time Grand Slam winner in his native Serbia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Serbian counterpart Ana Brnabić agreed during their phone conversation to stay in touch regarding the 34-year-old’s disputed visa, Morrison’s office said.

“The Prime Minister explained our non-discriminatory border policy and its role in protecting Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Morrison’s office said in a statement. “They have both agreed to keep in touch on the matter.”

Brnabić called on Morrison to ensure the tennis star is treated with dignity, state broadcaster Radio Television Serbia reported.

“The (Serbian) Prime Minister particularly underlined the importance of the training and physical preparation conditions for the upcoming competition, given that Novak Djokovic was not allowed to train on the previous days, and the tournament Melbourne starts this weekend, “RTS reported. .

Djokovoc was training on a Melbourne tennis court hours after his victory on the court.

“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 participate in @AustralianOpen. I stay focused on this, ”Djokovic tweeted just after midnight Tuesday.

“I came here to play one of the most important events we have had in front of incredible fans,” he added.

But Immigration Minister Alex Hawke plans to exercise his power to expel the tennis star under separate legislation.

“The minister is currently reviewing the matter and the process is continuing,” Hawke’s office said in a statement.

A border official canceled Djokovic’s visa at Melbourne airport last Thursday, hours after arriving in Australia to participate in the tournament.

Djokovic was confined to a quarantined hotel room in Melbourne until Monday, when a judge reinstated his visa, citing procedural errors made by border officials at the airport.

The unvaccinated 34-year-old had received a medical exemption from Tennis Australia, the tournament organizer, from his vaccination rules to participate because he was infected with COVID-19 last month.

But the Australian Border Force refused to grant him an exemption from national vaccination rules for incoming non-nationals.

He said infection in the previous six months was only grounds for vaccine exemption in cases where the coronavirus has caused serious illness.

There are also new questions over Djokovic’s request to enter the country after documents released by the Federal Circuit Court revealed he told authorities he had not traveled in the 14 days. before his flight to Australia.

Monte Carlo-based Djokovic landed in Melbourne just before midnight on Wednesday, answering “no” to the question about previous trips on his Australian travel declaration form.

But the defending Australian Open champion was filmed playing tennis in the streets of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on Christmas Day, and training in Spain on December 31 – both dates within the 14 day window.

The statement notes that giving false or misleading information is a serious offense, and civil penalties are also available.

Djokovic told border officials that Tennis Australia completed the declaration on his behalf, but the officer who canceled his visa noted that the sports body would have facilitated this “on the basis of information provided by the visa holder” .

Since Djokovic’s visa was canceled, Czech tennis player Renata Voráčová and an anonymous European tennis official have been expelled for similar reasons.

Morrison’s Tory government blamed the debacle on Tennis Australia, which ministers accuse players of misleading players about Australia’s vaccine requirements.

But newspapers reported that Tennis Australia begged the Home Office to check the visa documents of Djokovic and other players before they boarded the planes. The department did not.

Opposition Home Affairs Spokesperson Kristina Keneally blamed the confusion over the tennis star’s visa on a lack of planning on the part of the government.

It should have been clear whether Djokovic was right to enter the country to play at the Australian Open when he initially granted him the visa, Keneally said.

“If (he) gets kicked out it does incredible damage to Australia. If he does manage to stay, it does incredible damage to our tough border laws and is a real insult to the Australians who have done the hard work of locking down and vaccinating, ”Keneally told Seven Network TV.

Keneally said the Djokovic saga has made Australia “a bit of a joke” on the world stage.

Daniel Andrews, Prime Minister of the state of Victoria which hosts the Australian Open, said the federal government had changed its border rules in recent months.

“When we talked about exemptions previously, you will recall Minister Hawke saying he expected if you weren’t double vaxx you weren’t coming into the country, playing tennis. or you do something else. Said Andrews, who like Keneally is a member of the center-left Labor Party.

“It turned out that was not the position of the Commonwealth government and that it had let in people who had not been doubly vaxxed,” Andrews added.

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McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.

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