Sports

Tennis star Novak Djokovic under police guard in airport

HORIZONTAL

Novak Djokovic is being held in a guarded isolation room at Melbourne airport after officials discovered the tennis star’s team bungled his visa application to play in the Australian Open without being vaccinated.

The world No. 1’s father Srdjan said two police officers are stationed outside the room and nobody is allowed to enter apart from Novak.

He landed at Melbourne on an Emirates flight from Dubai at around 11.15pm, hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison threatened to send the Serb back ‘on the next plane home’ if he could not provide evidence for his vaccine exemption.

Other previous visa disputes such as his have seen travellers detained at the airport before being sent on a flight back to their country of origin.

The 34-year-old was snagged at customs after a member of his team made a critical mistake in requesting a sub-class of visa that does not apply to tennis players, sources told The Sydney Morning Herald.

HORIZONTAL

Border Force contacted the Victoria government earlier on Wednesday after finding that the tennis star’s team had submitted a visa which does not allow medical exemptions for being unvaccinated.

This kind of work visa would need the support of the Victorian government for approval, but they reportedly refused when asked by border agents, saying that visa applications were a matter for Morrison’s government.

While Djokovic had been granted a medical exemption from a Covid jab by two independent health panels, approval for the visa is a separate process.

It is not clear what course of action remains open to the anti-vaxxer athlete, who has never revealed whether he has received a Covid jab.

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Acting Victoria Sports Minister Jaala Pulford sent a late-night tweet confirming that Victoria was not supporting Djokovic’s visa application.

‘The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia. We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam,’ the tweet said.

Pulford continued: ‘We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors.’

It is not yet clear whether he has been allowed to pass through border control and enter the country. The Border Force have yet to comment.

His announcement that he had received a medical exemption to play provoked outrage in Melbourne, which has endured the world’s longest cumulative lockdown and where an outbreak of the Omicron variant has sent case numbers to record levels.

Australians, many of whom have been separated from loved ones overseas for months, had reacted with fury over news Djokovic had been granted exemption.

It was seen as an even more bitter pill to swallow due to the 34-year-old’s anti-vax views, including saying that he is ‘opposed to vaccination’ in April 2020.

In November, he lashed out at the media for attacking his vaccination status, saying ‘propaganda is spread that suits the elite or a certain group of people.’

But Australian PM Morrison told a press conference on Wednesday: ‘There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever… We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that.’

Tennis Australia and Victoria state had earlier said Djokovic was one of a ‘handful’ of successful applicants among 26 people who sought exemptions from being vaccinated, but had not received any special treatment in the application process.

The decision sparked sharp criticism in Australia, where more than 90 per cent of over-16s are doubled jabbed, with fans threatening to boycott the annual tournament over the perceived special treatment of the nine-times champion.

‘My view is that any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,’ Mr Morrison told reporters at a press conference today.

‘Now Novak Djokovic, when he arrives in Australia, he has to if he’s not vaccinated, must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully vaccinated travellers.

‘So we await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that. If that evidence is insufficient, then he will be treated no different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home.’

He added that any exemption given to Djokovic will still have to stack up upon arrival in Australia.

‘There are other cases – there are quite a number over the last couple of years – where people have had these exemptions and have the suitable proof to support their claim in those circumstances,’ Mr Morrison said.

‘So the circumstance is not unique. The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for the exemption.’

The grounds for Djokovic’s exemption under the ATAGI guidelines have remained private but the tennis star faces growing calls to personally explain how he got approval to enter Australia to contest the tournament without showing his vaccination status.

The Serbian, who has declined to reveal his vaccination status, said previously that he was unsure whether he would compete at the January 17-30 tournament in Melbourne due to concerns over Australia’s quarantine rules.

The state of usually Victoria does not allow unvaccinated people to enter unless they go through a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine, but on Tuesday the Serbian tennis star announced on social media he was flying to Melbourne after securing a medical exemption.

In a tweet Djokovic wrote: ‘Happy New Year! Wishing you all health, love & joy in every moment & may you feel love & respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet.

‘I’ve spent fantastic quality time with loved ones over break & today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022.’

Since he has been granted an exemption, he will not have to enter two weeks of hotel quarantine – like un-vaccinated arrivals must.

Instead, Djokovic will have to follow the same rules as fully-vaccinated travellers – taking a PCR test on arrival and isolating until the result comes through. Mailonline.

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