Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic practices on Rod Laver Arena ahead of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park, in Melbourne, Australia, January 11, 2022. Kelly Defina/Pool via REUTERS
January 14, 2022
By Sonali Paul, Sudipto Ganguly and Kirsty Needham
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic was due to hand himself in to immigration officers for detention on Saturday ahead of a court hearing in his battle to overturn new orders by the Australian government to remove him from the country.
The world’s top-ranked tennis player was required to surrender to officials in Melbourne for an interview about 8 a.m. on Saturday (2100 GMT on Friday), according to a court order issued on Friday night.
Border Force officers were due to accompany the 34-year-old player to his lawyer’s offices for an online hearing in the Federal Court at 10:15 a.m. ahead of the appeal scheduled for Sunday.
The government undertook not to deport Djokovic until his appeal has been heard, although the world number one was ordered to return to pre-deportation detention. He wants to defend his Australian Open title, and the tournament begins on Monday.
In yet another dramatic 24 hours in the saga that has rocked international sports and diplomacy, Djokovic’s legal team submitted their appeal late on Friday after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used discretionary powers to revoke the visa.
Hawke said the unvaccinated sports star should be removed from the country on “health and good order grounds” and in the “public interest”.
Djokovic’s medical exemption from vaccine requirements to play the Open has prompted enormous anger in Australia, which has undergone some the world’s toughest COVID-19 lockdowns and where more than 90% of adults are vaccinated, but hospitalisation rates continue to hit record highs.
With global scientists and policymakers focused on vaccinating as many people as possible to end the pandemic, the refusal of Djokovic to get the jab has fueled the anti-vaxx movement, especially in his native Serbia and surrounding countries.
However, Djokovic’s lawyers said they would argue deportation would only further fan anti-vaccine sentiment and be as much a threat to disorder and public health as letting him stay and exempting him from Australia’s requirement that all visitors be vaccinated.
The controversy over the tennis player has become a political touchstone for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he prepares for an election due by May.
His government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, but it has not escaped criticism While Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not escaped criticism for the seemingly inconsistent handling of Djokovic’s visa application for its handling of Djokovic’s visa application.
Djokovic, who is set to play fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovi in the first round of the Open, is hunting a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title. But instead of hitting Rod Laver arena on Monday or Tuesday he could be deported on a flight out of Melbourne.
He also has the option of withdrawing and leaving Australia of his own accord. If he withdrew prior to the first day of play, Andrey Rublev would take his spot in the first round.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul, Sudipto Ganguly and Kirsty Needham; Editing by Leela de Kretser and Daniel Wallis)
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