Australian border officials detained tennis superstar Novak Djokovic for eight hours at Melbourne airport, mostly incommunicado, before canceling his visa and sending him to a detention center, his lawyers said on Saturday.
Djokovic obtained a Covid-19 vaccine exemption from Tennis Australia and the Australian government because he tested positive for the virus in December, which should have qualified him for entry, lawyers argued.
âThe date of the first positive Covid PCR test was recorded on December 16, 2021,â his legal team said in a 32-page brief ahead of a federal court hearing on Monday to appeal the visa decision.
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But footage shared by the Belgrade Tennis Federation last year showed Djokovic at a young players’ event in the city on December 17, the day after his lawyers said he tested positive for the virus.
The federation said in a statement that Djokovic presented cups and prizes to the best young players in 2021 during a restricted event in the event of a pandemic.
They also shared several photos of the world number one posing with federation officials and around 20 young players. No one wore a mask.
Djokovic had requested time to rest and consult with his legal team the next morning after landing in Melbourne on Wednesday evening, his lawyers said.
But after a border official initially agreed, his superiors managed to pressure Djokovic to allow them to make an immediate decision on his visa, lawyers said.
Foreigners are still mostly banned from traveling to Australia, and those allowed to enter must be fully vaccinated or have medical exemption.
Read also | Djokovic ‘No-vax’: unforced error
The tennis star has been held since Thursday morning in a Melbourne detention center “despite his requests to be transferred” to another facility to train for the Australian Open, they added.
Although Djokovic has been granted a legal stay of deportation, it is unclear whether he will be able to play in the tournament from January 17 to 30.
If successful, he will aim for a 10th Australian Open crown and a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title – a step that the great Spaniard Rafael Nadal is also pursuing.
In an internal video leaked on Saturday, Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley said his organization had done “everything it could.”
âThere is a lot of criticism to be made, but I can assure you that our team has done an incredible job,â he said in a video posted by the Sunday Herald Sun newspaper.
A second tennis player on his way to the tournament – Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova – had her visa canceled after being initially allowed to enter the country, her government confirmed.
She was also placed in central Melbourne and told Czech media that the facility was “like a prison”.
On Saturday, an Australian government source said Voracova had left Australia. Photos and footage from AFP earlier showed a woman who appeared to be Voracova in a vehicle leaving the center.
Read also | Djokovic had Covid-19 month ago, got clearance to enter Australia, court says
Djokovic, an outspoken vaccine skeptic, thanked fans for their support on Instagram: “Thank you people around the world for your continued support. I can feel it and it’s greatly appreciated.”
More than 100 anti-vaccine supporters and protesters, drumming and chanting “Novak”, gathered outside Melbourne’s immigration detention center on Saturday.
There was also support for Djokovic at an anti-vaccine rally, attended by hundreds of people, in another part of town.
“I don’t want to see my grandchildren vaccinated,” said Margaret Beacham, a 67-year-old former schoolteacher.
“Novak is taking a stand and this is a global opportunity for him to say something about immunization status and how ridiculous it is.”
As much of the country tightened restrictions to tackle an Omicron-fueled wave, the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, recorded a daily record of 51,356 cases on Saturday.
The center housing Djokovic, formerly Park Hotel and officially known as an “alternative place of detention”, is home to around 32 migrants trapped in Australia’s intransigent immigration system – some for years.
Prisoners cannot leave the hotel and no one is allowed in or out, except the staff.
The five-story center gained notoriety last year when a fire forced migrants to be evacuated and maggots were reportedly found in the food.
Djokovic’s family said the hotel was “dirty”.
Djokovic’s detention has sparked international scrutiny, with the Serbian government demanding an explanation.
“Djokovic is not a criminal, terrorist or illegal migrant, but has been treated this way by Australian authorities, causing understandable outrage from his fans and citizens of Serbia,” a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Foreign Affairs.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended the revocation of Djokovic’s visa.
“The rules are the rules and there are no special cases,” he said.
Judge Anthony Kelly warned lawyers for the star during a hearing Thursday that justice will move forward at its own pace through all necessary appeals.
âThe tail won’t wag the dog here,â he said.
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