Australia denies tennis champion Djokovic entry amid vaccine feud

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Australia announced Thursday it had canceled Novak Djokovic’s entry visa, paving the way for his detention and removal in a dramatic turnaround for the world’s number one tennis player.

The Serbian had landed in Melbourne the night before, after celebrating on social media that he had a medical exemption to play in the tournament without proof that he was fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The vaccine exemption, granted by the organizers of the Australian Open after his request was approved by two medical panels, has sparked fury from Australians who have endured the lockdowns and restrictions of Covid-19 for two years .

But the nine-time Australian Open champion has never passed border control.

“Mr. Djokovic failed to provide adequate evidence to qualify for entry into Australia, and his visa was subsequently canceled,” the Australian Border Force said in a statement.

“Non-nationals who do not hold a valid visa on entry or whose visa has been canceled will be detained and returned from Australia,” he added.

“The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those arriving at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements. “

‘No excuses’

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country’s strict border policies have been key to keeping death rates low.

“The rules are the rules, especially when it comes to our borders,” he said.

“No one is above these rules.”

Home Secretary Karen Andrews said the government had “not apologized” for border protection.

“People who do not meet our strict requirements will be refused entry to Australia, no matter who they are,” she said in a statement.

Djokovic was to leave Australia at the earliest opportunity after losing his visa.

The Serbian president blasted Australia for the star’s “mistreatment”.

President Aleksandar Vucic said on Instagram that he spoke to Djokovic by phone and told him that “all of Serbia is with him and that our authorities take all measures to ensure that the ill-treatment inflicted on the best tennis player of the world end as quickly as possible ”.

“In accordance with all standards of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic, justice and truth.”

The Australian government’s move follows a wave of anger over the granting of Djokovic’s exemption.

Stephen Parnis, former vice president of the Australian Medical Association, said he had sent a “appalling message” to people trying to stop the spread of Covid-19.

“No special favor”

Morrison had warned the day before that if Djokovic did not have proof of his exemption, he “would be on the next plane home.”

All participants in the first Grand Slam of 2022, which begins on January 17, must be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a medical exemption, which is only granted after evaluation by two colleges of independent experts.

Tournament chief Craig Tiley said the defending champion had received “no special favors” but urged him to reveal why he got the exemption to appease public anger.

Among the conditions for entry without a vaccine is whether a person has had Covid-19 in the past six months. It has not been revealed whether this is the case with Djokovic.

Tiley said only 26 of the estimated 3,000 players and support staff traveling to Australia for the tournament had requested a vaccine exemption. Only a handful of them had succeeded.

He defended the integrity of the exemption request process.

“Anyone meeting these conditions was allowed to enter. There was no special favor. There was no special opportunity given to Novak, ”Tiley said.

Djokovic expressed his opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine in April 2020 when it was suggested that they could be mandatory for the tournament to resume.

“Personally, I’m not pro-vaccine,” Djokovic said at the time. “I wouldn’t want someone to force me to get the vaccine so I can travel.”

(AFP)

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