Australia spectacularly relaunched the saga around the expulsion of Novak Djokovic on Friday after revoking the visa of the number one in world tennis, who will not, however, be deported until justice is pronounced.
Djokovic, 34, is aiming for his 21st Grand Slam win at the Australian Open, which starts on Monday, overtaking Spain’s Rafa Nadal and Switzerland’s Roger Federer, absent through injury.
The Australian government decided this Friday to cancel the visa of the world number one tennis player, arguing reasons of "health and public order".
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s executive is "firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, especially in this context of the covid-19 pandemic"Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said in a statement.
For Morrison, this measure safeguards "the sacrifices" made by Australians during the pandemic, in one of the countries that has applied the most severe restrictions in the world to stop the spread of covid-19.
Following this visa annulment, the Serb may be barred from entering the country for three years, except under certain circumstances.
– Postponement –
But in a new twist to this judicial saga, the tennis player challenged this decision in an emergency hearing on Friday night.
Djokovic’s lawyer, Nick Wood, called for his expulsion to be blocked and asked that he be allowed to remain outside the detention center for the duration of the process.
"We are very concerned about the times"Wood said before the judge, with three days to go before the Australian Open begins.
Australian authorities immediately decided to suspend his deportation and announced that he will not be taken to a holding center before he meets with immigration authorities on Saturday.
In Belgrade, Djokovic’s compatriots were surprised by the Australian government’s statements.
"To say that a high-level athlete like Novak is a danger to Australians is absurd, it is a scandal"said Petar Stojanovic, a 28-year-old local official.
Ten days ago, Djokovic traveled to Australia having obtained a waiver from the tournament organizers for having tested positive for covid-19 in mid-December.
However, upon arrival in the country, border authorities did not consider that a recent infection warranted an exception and Djokovic’s visa was revoked and he was sent to a migrant detention center.
The tennis player was locked up there until Monday, when his lawyers managed to get an Australian judge to release him for a procedural error during his interrogation at Melbourne airport.
Since then, Djokovic trained normally at the Australian Open facilities, which on Thursday included him as the first seed in the draw for the draw.
On Friday, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham insisted, ahead of Hawke’s official decision, that Australia only allows entry into its territory for people with a full vaccination schedule or those with an accepted medical exemption.
"This policy has not changed and we will continue to enforce this policy rigorously.", he stated on local ABC television.
– We "pretends to be idiots" –
Djokovic recognized this week "mistakes" in the middle of the scandal. In a statement, he conceded that the travel declaration given to the authorities contained false information, but alleged that it was filled out by a member of his team.
He also admitted that he was wrong to meet with a journalist from the French newspaper L’Equipe on December 18 even knowing that he was infected with coronavirus.
The case sows discrepancy also in the circuit. Some players consider that the authorities should allow the participation of the world number one, but others are not so receptive.
This is the case of the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, number four in the world, who accused the Serbian of "have played by their own rules".
"That requires a lot of courage and puts the entire tournament in jeopardy… I don’t think there are many tennis players who would have done the same"he said in an interview with the Indian outlet WION.
Tsitsipas lamented that almost all the players in the Grand Slam have been vaccinated, but "others have chosen to go their own way, making most of them look like idiots".
This case has increased the pressure on Morrison’s Conservative government, which faces a general election in May.
During almost two years of the pandemic, Australians have been subjected to very severe restrictions, with a strict border closure that has kept citizens abroad separated from their families for a long time.