The family of tennis champion Novak Djokovic read a statement from the player at a press conference on Thursday in his native Belgrade, Serbia, delivered from captivity in a migrant facility in Australia.
Australian authorities apprehended Djokovic upon arriving in Melbourne on Wednesday to prepare to compete in the Australian Open, one of the four top tournaments in professional tennis. Djokovic had published a social media post before getting on his flight to the country stating that he had received an “exemption” from the country’s onerous coronavirus vaccine requirements that would allow him to partake without being vaccinated. Upon landing, however, officials canceled his visa and rejected the paperwork he reportedly offered showing authorities he had received a medical exemption.
Reports on the ground suggest that the paperwork Djokovic offered came from Tennis Australia, the organization running the Australian Open, and not the federal government. Tennis Australia advertised Djokovic’s presence at the tournament long before the player weighed in.
This is Djokovic at Melbourne Airport last night. I have spoken to the man who took this photo. He says Novak showed a bundle of papers to Border Force with Tennis Australia logos on it. It feels to me Djokovic legitimately felt like he had an exemption thanks to TA. @2GB873 pic.twitter.com/uOtSYyBOR7
— Chris O'Keefe (@cokeefe9) January 6, 2022
Australian Border Force moved to deport Djokovic on Thursday, but the player appealed the decision. Reports indicate authorities will hear his appeal on Monday and have transferred him to a notoriously inhumane refugee detention facility in the meantime.
In his first public statement since the incident, the tennis champion said, “God sees everything. Moral and ethics as the greatest ideals are the shining stars towards spiritual ascension.”
“My grace is spiritual and theirs is material wealth,” the statement concluded, presumably addressing the Australian government.
Djokovic’s brother Djordje, also a tennis professional, read the statement at a press conference held at the family restaurant in Belgrade. There, parents Srdjan and Dijana accused the Australian government of persecuting their son, appeared to incite a political conflict between Serbia and Australia, and compared their son to Jesus Christ. Friday marks the Christmas holiday for Orthodox believers, the majority in Serbia.
“The leader of that faraway land, Scott Morrison … dared to attack Novak and expel him before he had reached their country. They had wanted to throw him to his knees, and not just him, but our beautiful Serbia,” Srdjan Djokovic, recently departed from Australia himself, asserted.
“Jesus was crucified on the cross … but he is still alive among us. They are trying to crucify and belittle Novak and throw him to his knees,” the elder Djokovic continued. Srdjan Djokovic also asserted of Serbian people, “Throughout history, we have never attacked anyone, we only defended ourselves” – a claim likely disputed by nearly every one of Serbia’s neighbors.
“Our Novak, our pride. Novak is Serbia and Serbia is Novak,” Srdjan asserted. “They are trampling over Serbia and by doing that, they are trampling on the Serbian people.
Dijana Djokovic praised her son as a “revolutionary who is changing the world” and called his detention a “political attack.”
“I hope they won’t clip his wings as they had intended. We will give him power and energy with prayers and kind messages to remain true to himself,” Dijana Djokovic said.
The Djokovic family has called for convening a protest against Australia in Belgrade on Friday, the Orthodox Christmas.
In Melbourne, Djokovic supporters waving and wearing Serbian flags convened outside of the Park Hotel, a refugee detention facility where the interned have complained for months of rapid coronavirus spread, poor hygiene, and other problems. Dancing and singing Serbian songs, the protesters demanded the Australian government free the tennis champion.
Fans of tennis star Novak Djokovic gathered outside the hotel he was staying at to show their support after he was denied entry into Australia amid protests over a decision to grant him exemption from COVID-19 vaccination to play in the Australian Open https://t.co/VFcMG5prdk pic.twitter.com/8p6WgiLW9g
— Reuters (@Reuters) January 6, 2022
Given the poor reputation of the facility, the Park Hotel regularly attracts protesters calling for the abolition of migrant detention centers generally – who also surfaced on Thursday, prompting a growing police presence and some tension.
Melbourne has been a hotbed of opposition to Australia’s draconian Chinese coronavirus policies for week – which, in addition to mandating vaccine products, have included the use of the police and military to imprison suspected coronavirus patients or individuals identified via contact tracing. Protests in Melbourne attracted thousands in November calling for an end to coronavirus-related civil rights infringements.
Djokovic has risen to become one of the most prominent voices against Chinese coronavirus-related mandates and restrictions since the pandemic began in China in late 2019. In mid-2020, Djokovic countered the many cancelations of tennis tournaments by attempting to organize his own, the “Adria Tour,” which ended abruptly when Djokovic and several other players tested positive for Chinese coronavirus.
“Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” Djokovic said during a Facebook live chat in April 2020. “But, if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.”
Djokovic is the reigning champion at the Australian Open and has won the tournament nine times, more than any other man. He is also the top ranked player in the world and has won more Grand Slam trophies than any other men’s player in history except Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. All through have 20 championships to their name, many of them won against each other.