Los hechos sobre la travesía de Novak Djokovic en Australia y su deportación

Djokovic’s Episode in Australia: The Naked Truth

What really happened to the Serbian tennis star? Is Novak Djokovic unruly, disrespectful or a symbol of freedom?

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World’s best tennis player, Novak Djokovic, will not be able to play in the Australian Open following a decision by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to use his powers to deport the Serb on “public interest” grounds. The tennis player’s lawyers filed an appeal to avoid deportation, the case went to the Australian Federal Court, but was unanimously rejected.

There are many myths and misinformation surrounding the case that have been systematically spread on social networks not only by fans, but also by journalists. Phrases similar to “Australia enforced its laws” or “Djokovic did not deserve special treatment for being a star” became recurrent, but, in reality, they are far from the facts in this case.

Djokovic and a medical exemption that generated controversy

Much was said about the Australian government’s decision to impose vaccine mandates to enter the country. This gave way to the possibility and speculation that Djokovic, who was presumed not to be vaccinated (something that was confirmed in the last few days), would not be able to enter Australia to play the Open. However, the Serb qualified for a medical exemption that was requested by him and 26 others. A handful of those requests were granted. The exemption was granted by Tennis Australia and the Government of Victoria, the state where the Australian Open will be held.

The medical exemption was received by the Serb on December 30. The document, a priori, allowed the tennis player to enter Australia without the COVID vaccine or quarantine. How did Djokovic get the exemption? The tennis player proved, through a positive PCR test, that he had just recovered from COVID and that he had the endorsement of a certified physician.

On January 1, in fact, Djokovic’s team submitted its travel declaration to the Australian Ministry of Home Affairs, which after prior assessment approved the arrival in the country without quarantine. Then, on January 2, Djokovic received a travel permit at the border from the Victorian state government.

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On January 4, Djokovic, through his social networks, reported that he was heading to Australia with a medical exemption. Tennis Australia confirmed the news. From there began a global uproar because, according to critics of the Serb, the tennis player was receiving privileged treatment from the Australian government.

The mainstream media cited the unfair case of Russian tennis player Natalia Vikhlyantseva, who is vaccinated against COVID-19, but with Sputnik, a drug not recognized by the Australian health authorities. In addition, the Australian government over the last few months implemented a series of extreme sanitary measures that affected the citizens of that country. Many did not understand the logic of allowing Djokovic to enter the face of these two cases.

Once Djokovic boarded a flight to Australia, the country’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, warned that if the Serb did not meet the medical exemption requirements, his visa would be canceled and he would be deported. When the tennis player arrived in Australia on January 6, immigration authorities detained him for more than eight hours without being able to communicate abroad.

According to a published transcript of the interrogation, Djokovic, in the wee hours of the morning, was asked for additional information about his medical exemption that was not previously requested in order to allow him to enter the country. The Serb, who complained to officials about the difficult situation he was subjected to, was unable to provide that information; consequently, his visa was canceled and he was detained in a hotel for immigrants.

At a press conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison himself read a letter sent on November 29 by Health Minister Greg Hunt to Tennis Australia stating that contracting and recovering from COVID-19 in the last six months does not qualify for quarantine-free entry. However, the federal government’s recommendations contradict each other, creating confusion with the standard, according to an ABC Australia report.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI), which advises the health minister on the National Immunization Program (NIP) and other immunization-related issues, has “the definition of fully vaccinated” updated as of Dec. 15. One section reads, “COVID-19 vaccination in people who have had PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection can be deferred for a maximum of six months after the acute illness, as a temporary exemption due to acute major medical illness.”

This indicates that Djokovic, initially, and with the knowledge of the Australian government (the medical exemption granted was public knowledge) was going to be able to enter Australia, but in the midst of the media controversy the government decided to cancel his visa.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway in their group stage match at the Nitto ATP Finals tennis tournament in Turin, Italy, Nov. 15, 2021. (EFE)

Another point that generated controversy, as reviewed by ABC Australia, is that two tennis players with medical exemptions entered Australia without the inconvenience and left the country after seeing the detention and revocation of view against Djokovic and the expulsion of the Czech tennis player Renata Voracova, which also caused questions to the Australian government.

“The appearance of two other players with exemptions in Australia adds to the confusion over the The emergence of two more players on exemptions in Australia heightens the confusion over the processing of tennis players by border officials on arrival,” ABC recounted.

The “unreasonable” visa cancellation and the powers of the immigration minister

It took four days before, on January 10, Judge Anthony Kelly ruled in favor of the Serb, annulling his case and ordering his immediate release.

Kelly was categorical in his ruling, calling the cancellation of the visa “unreasonable” and, therefore, determined that the Serb did not violate immigration laws and that his medical exemption is valid.

This legal victory was short-lived for Djokovic, as under Australian law, the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, has special powers to deport him. In addition, there was a series of controversies involving the tennis player in the days following his release that forced the Serbian to give public explanations.

First, on January 11, the Australian Border Force (ABF) began investigating whether Djokovic submitted a false travel declaration before arriving in Australia. This was confirmed by Djokovic himself on Instagram, as in his affidavit he crossed out the “no” box in the question about whether he had been to a third country before going to Australia. The Serb had indeed been to Spain previously and explained that it was a “human error” by his staff.

There was also speculation about the validity of his positive PCR test (the alleged “invalidity” of which was never proven) and much criticism that the Serb attended an interview with L’Équipe newspaper while infected with COVID-19 on December 1. He then apologized and said he was sorry for having made that mistake.

All this noise diverted attention from what was really important: the difficult decision Alex Hawke had to make. The immigration minister himself admitted, in an interview to The Age, that Djokovic did not violate any health regulations, immigration law or pose a risk of contagion, but that he was an alleged danger to Australia’s public health by apparently inciting the population not to comply with the government’s health regulations by being a recognized figure.

For this reason, last Friday, January 14, Hawke wrote in a statement that the cancellation of the Serb’s visa for the second time was exercised “under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr. Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”

Federal Court rules in favor of the minister

The case didn’t end there, as the Serb’s lawyers appealed, taking the case all the way to the Federal Court of Australia. Djokovic’s lawyer, Nick Wood, gave a large and extensive presentation, addressing the key points of the cancellation of the second visa: the little evidence used by Minister Hawke to use his special power, disprove media reports that Djokovic was “anti-vaccine” and the disparity of criteria by the federal government between the first and second cancellation; as the arguments between the two decisions are totally opposite.

One of Wood’s arguments is that Minister Hawke interpreted Djokovic’s continued stay in Australia as a public health risk, but failed to assess the dissatisfaction that could be generated by the forced deportation of a person who complied with all immigration and health laws.

However, according to legal experts, the case was always uphill for the Serbian’s lawyers and the Court, composed of judges James Allsop (presiding), Anthony Besanko and David O’Callaghan, decided unanimously to rule against Djokovic. The reasons will be published, in written form, in the coming days.

“I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this,” Djokovic said following the Federal Court’s decision. “I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love. I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers, and fans all the best for the tournament.”

The Serb also thanked all the global support he received and said he would accept the ruling and cooperate with the authorities for his deportation.

Beyond the great commotion that the Djokovic case had, generating a heated debate in social networks and media, there is an irrefutable fact in this case: the Serb always had his papers in order from day one and the government decided to cancel his visa, on two occasions, with two different arguments, after receiving criticism and pressure from around the world. In the end, the health and immigration rules were complied with, but politics won out.

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