Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic was included in the official Australian Open draw on Thursday, although uncertainty remains over whether the government will rescind the top seed’s visa for the second time. .
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is considering exercising his discretion to revoke Djokovic’s visa due to concern over the star’s medical exemption from Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
The 34-year-old defending champion, who was training at the Rod Laver Arena earlier on Thursday, has drawn fellow unranked Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic for his first-round match, which is set to be played on Monday or Tuesday.
The controversy has taken on significance that goes beyond tennis: it has intensified a global debate over the rights of the unvaccinated and has become a politically sensitive issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he campaigns for re-election.
Australia is due to hold an election by May, and while Morrison’s government has won national support for its tough stance on border security before and during the pandemic, it has not escaped criticism over the management botched of Djokovic’s visa.
Morrison declined to comment on Djokovic’s visa on Thursday.
Organizer Tennis Australia had delayed the official draw for more than an hour, without saying why.
Djokovic, a vaccine skeptic, fueled widespread anger in Australia last week when he announced he was traveling to Melbourne for the Australian Open with a medical exemption from requirements for visitors to be vaccinated against the COVID-19.
Upon his arrival, Australian Border Force officials decided his exemption was not valid and he was held alongside asylum seekers in a migrant detention hotel for several days.
On Monday, a court allowed him to stay on the grounds that officials had been “unreasonable” in the way they handled his interview in a seven-hour process in the middle of the night.
The government, which has won support at home for its tough stance on border security before and during the pandemic, must now decide whether to let Djokovic stay and bid for a record 21st major title.
Errors MadeDjokovic’s cause was not helped by an error in his entry declaration, on which a box indicating that he had not traveled abroad in the two weeks preceding his departure for Australia was checked.
In fact, he had gone to Spain from Serbia.
Djokovic, 34, blamed the mistake on his agent and admitted he also should have postponed an interview and photo shoot for a French newspaper on December 18 when he was infected with COVID-19.
Fans, including many Serbian Australians, gave him loud support when he was detained. Anti-vaxxers hailed him as a hero and his family portrayed him as a champion of individual rights.
But Djokovic may face hostility from the crowd if and when he steps onto the pitch.
There is widespread anger over the saga among Australians, who have a 90% vaccination rate among adults after enduring some of the world’s longest lockdowns aimed at curbing the pandemic.
Crowds in the Open’s main arenas will be capped at 50% capacity and masks will be mandatory for all spectators under updated COVID-19 restrictions announced Thursday as authorities battle a surge of cases caused by the Omicron variant.
“I don’t like his arrogance,” Melbourne resident Teyhan Ismain said on Wednesday. “It looks like he also told a few lies. So I think he should probably go back.”
There may also be resentment in the locker room, where all but three of the top 100 men are vaccinated.
Tennis great Martina Navratilova has told Australian TV that Djokovic should ‘swallow it’ and go home.
“At the end of the day, sometimes your personal beliefs have to be overshadowed by what’s good for the greater good, for those around you, for your peers,” she told Seven’s Sunrise program. “You have two choices, get vaccinated or just not play.”
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