MELBOURNE: Unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic won the right to take his fight against deportation from Australia to a Federal Court on Saturday after the government cancelled his visa for the second time over COVID-19 entry regulations.
The government undertook not to deport him until the case was over, although the world’s number one player was nevertheless ordered to return to pre-deportation detention at 8 a.m. (2100 GMT Friday).
His legal team submitted their appeal late at night – less than three hours after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used discretionary powers to revoke the visa – in the hope that he can still begin the defence of his Australian Open title on Monday.
They said they would argue that Djokovic’s deportation could be just as much of a threat to public health, by fanning anti-vaccine sentiment, as letting him stay and exempting him from Australia’s requirement that all visitors must be vaccinated.
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not escaped criticism for the seemingly inconsistent handling of Djokovic’s visa application.
The 34-year-old Serbian, bidding for a record 21st Grand Slam title, had been told on arrival on Jan. 5 that the medical exemption that enabled him to travel was invalid.
He spent several days in immigration detention, in a hotel also used for asylum-seekers, before that decision was revoked on procedural grounds.
Hawke said on Friday that he had now exercised his prerogative to cancel the visa “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”.