Australian court begins review of Djokovic visa verdict

Djokovic is appealing Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s use of discretionary powers to cancel his visa on the grounds that he posed a threat to public order, as his presence would foster anti-vaccination sentiment amid the Australia’s worst virus outbreak.

“We hope to be able to identify the parties later this afternoon what course we are offering,” Chief Justice James Allsop told the court as he adjourned the case after hearing the government lawyers and the tennis champion. player.

The impending verdict from all three Federal Court judges will decide the fate of the world’s number one tennis player after a 10-day rollercoaster ride that saw him detained by immigration authorities, released and then detained again before a tournament that starts on Monday.

The Serbian champion was escorted to his lawyer’s office by immigration officials to attend the virtual court hearing on Sunday morning, after spending Saturday night in an immigration detention hotel.

Nick Wood, acting for Djokovic, highlighted how the player took part in the Australian Open and other major tournaments around the world last year without causing any protests or unrest.

“If there were any reason to think that Mr. Djokovic’s presence and participation in a tennis tournament could somehow lead to this anti-vax sentiment, one would expect that ‘it’s backed up by some kind of evidence about anti-vax protests or rallies or the like at tennis events,’ Wood said.

But Wood told the court no such thing was identified by the minister in his decision to cancel the visa.

Wood said instead, the possibility was that a forced removal of Djokovic could spur the anti-vaccination movement and protests.

Stephen Lloyd, for the government, said Djokovic’s opposition to vaccination could be seen not only in his public statements, but also because he had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 even after the vaccines. have become widely available.

The government lawyer acknowledged there was a risk that revoking Djokovic’s visa could spark “unrest” among people who disagreed.

But, Lloyd argued that given Djokovic’s status as a top athlete, there was a danger that his stance and behavior could embolden others outside of the established anti-vaccination community in flouting health safety guidelines.

“The minister felt his presence in Australia would encourage people to emulate his apparent disregard for these sorts of security measures,” Lloyd said.

He cited Djokovic’s participation in a media interview and photoshoot when he knew he was infected with COVID-19 last month.

Djokovic had been granted a visa, as his recent infection allowed him to apply for a medical exemption from Australia’s vaccination requirements to play at the Open.

The exemption has sparked widespread anger in Australia, which has suffered some of the toughest COVID-19 lockdowns in the world and where more than 90% of adults are vaccinated.

“TIRED OF THE SITUATION”

Djokovic clings to hopes of playing at the Australian Open which starts on Monday. If he wins the tournament, which he has done nine times before, he would become the first male player to hold 21 Grand Slam titles.

The preparation for the tournament was overshadowed by the drama over the unvaccinated star’s bid to play. Spanish great Rafael Nadal, tied with Djokovic for 20 Grand Slam titles, was one of many top players in town who said they just wanted the circus to be over.

Djokovic spent Saturday night at the Park Hotel in Melbourne, returning to the same migrant detention hotel where he was held for several nights after arriving in Australia.

A judge released him on Monday after finding the decision to cancel his visa upon arrival was unreasonable.

The controversy has become a political touchstone for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he prepares for an election due in May.

His government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, but it has been criticized for its handling of Djokovic’s visa application.

Djokovic’s main rivals have grown increasingly impatient with the uncertainty hanging over the draw and the cloud hanging over their sport.

“Honestly, I’m a bit tired of the situation because I just believe it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis,” Nadal, who is tied for 20 major titles with Djokovic, told reporters on Saturday at Melbourne Park, where the event will be played.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly, Ian Ransom in Melbourne and John Mair and Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Edward K. Thompson