In the run-up to the Australian Open, one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world, there is great commotion surrounding the worldʼs number one in the menʼs singles, Novak Djokovic. Djokovicʼs visa has been revoked by the Australian government.
Despite repeated questions, the number one of the tennis world has still not officially clarified whether he is fully vaccinated. Djokovic has, however, repeatedly spoken negatively about the COVID-19 vaccines. The suspicion is that the Serbian himself is not fully vaccinated. The Australian government normally requires all incoming travellers to be fully vaccinated. If not vaccinated, it is not possible to travel to the country, even with a valid visa. So the question was whether Djokovic would be able to take part in the tournament that is taking place in Australia. Djokovic himself refused to give assurances as long as vaccinations were mandatory for participation in the Australian Open.
The Australian Premier Scott Morrison announced at the end of October 2021 that an exception would be made for unvaccinated athletes. They would have to spend two weeks in quarantine after arrival. The Prime Minister felt that an exception was in order, partly because, according to him, "many jobs depend on it". With this, Morrison went against his immigration minister, Alex Hawke, who had previously said that unvaccinated athletes were not welcome.
Despite what Morrison said, however, it appears that Djokovic is not welcome in the country after all, despite the visa he was granted.
Djokovic received a medical exemption from the Australian Tennis Association and the State of Victoria, but not from the national government. The Australian government said they were investigating whether the Serb was indeed eligible for an exemption from the vaccination requirement. A first decision was made after an 8-hour interview at the airport in Melbourne. Djokovicʼs visa was revoked because it was apparently the wrong type of visa. Djokovic does not meet the requirements for that Australia visa. Djokovic challenged the decision in court, which ruled in favour of the Serb. However, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has decided to revoke Djokovicʼs visa. Djokovic must now leave the country as soon as possible. He is not allowed to participate in the Australian Open.
The planned arrival of Djokovic led to great indignation inside and outside Australia. Australia has very strict rules for people who want to travel to the country. Officially, the travel ban as a result of corona is still in force. Only specific visa holders and certain individuals (such as parents of Australian citizens) are allowed to enter the country. In some cases, they have to apply for an exemption permit in addition to the visa. All travellers must be fully vaccinated and undergo a COVID-19 test before departure.
This is not the first time Djokovic has been the centre of controversy in the tennis world. In June 2020, the world number one hosted a charity tournament in Belgrade. Due to the fact that the COVID-19 rules were barely observed, many attendees got infected with the COVID virus.
In a reversal of his earlier stance, Premier Morrison stated that "No one is above the rules".
Serbia is angry while other tennis players are down-to-earth
In Serbia, the treatment of Novak Djokovic is not to everyoneʼs liking. President Alexander Vucic summoned the Australian ambassador to explain the situation. According to Djokovicʼs parents, they have no contact with their son and he is being held in a quarantine hotel. The Australian government stated that Djokovic is free to leave the country at any time. But as long as he is in Australia, he is not allowed to leave the quarantine hotel.
Other tennis players are more down-to-earth. According to 20-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal, Djokovic has made his own choices, and there are consequences. The former coach of Roger Federer, Paul Annacone, said that Djokovic himself has chosen not to comply with the rules.
The current situation may also have consequences for Djokovic in future tournaments in which the number one in the world may want to participate.