Multiple media outlets reported on Tuesday, citing Australian government officials, that tennis champion Novak Djokovic’s visa ban would be revoked in time for him to play the Australian Open in January.
Australian officials imprisoned Djokovic, a 21-time Grand Slam champion, in a migrant detention facility last January after his arrival to the country and ultimately deported him on the grounds that his presence in the country may inspire Australian citizens to reconsider receiving doses of Chinese coronavirus vaccination products. Djokovic had revealed that he has not ingested any coronavirus vaccination products and requested a medical exemption to the vaccine requirement for entering Australia before traveling to Melbourne for the tournament.
The Australian government overturning the ban on Djokovic entering the country does not necessarily protect him from another arrest and deportation, as Djokovic possessed a legal visa to enter the country when he was detained in Melbourne early this year.
Djokovic was arrested at the airport for allegedly possessing an illegitimate visa. Australian officials later admitted that Djokovic was arrested despite having a valid visa and the government approving his medical exemption, blaming a “computer” for incorrectly approving his application.
Djokovic’s arrest prompted a wave of protests outside of the facility holding him and added to mounting pressure on the government of then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ease civil rights abuses against citizens and foreigners in the name of preventing the spread of Chinese coronavirus.
Djokovic is one of history’s winningest male singles tennis players. Prior to the deportation, he was poised to win more Grand Slam titles than anyone in history. His absence allowed longtime champion Rafael Nadal to win the Australian Open trophy. Nadal also won the Roland Garros tournament in France, where Djokovic also played, resulting in him claiming a record 22 Grand Slam trophies and surpassing Djokovic for the title of history’s most prolific male singles champion. Djokovic currently holds 21 such trophies and won the Wimbledon tournament – also marred by a ban on Russian players, meaning top-ranked Daniil Medvedev could not compete.
Morrison lost his job in May to current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, a left-wing politician who has since eased travel restrictions related to the pandemic.
The far-left New York Times newspaper cited unnamed Australian “officials” as confirming that a three-year ban on Djokovic entering the country that kicked in upon his deportation has been overturned.
“That leaves Mr. Djokovic free to apply for a new visa, which is expected to be quickly approved,” the Times claimed.
The U.K. Guardian first reported, not citing any source at all, that Australia would reconsider its ban on Djokovic.
“Guardian Australia understands the immigration minister, Andrew Giles, will give Djokovic a visa, overturning a three-year ban that accompanied the decision by the previous government to cancel his visa on the eve of the 2022 open,” the newspaper reported on Tuesday.
“Australia has since overturned its requirement for visitors to be vaccinated,” the Guardian noted, referring to the time in between Djokovic’s deportation and this month. “To overturn the three-year ban, the minister must be satisfied that compelling circumstances exist to let a person who had previously had their visa revoked to return.”
ESPN cited the Australian Broadcasting Corp. of similarly reporting that Djokovic would return to compete in the Australian Open in January.
“Immigration Minister Andrew Giles’ office declined comment on privacy grounds, meaning any announcement on Djokovic’s visa status would have to come from the 35-year-old Serbian tennis star,” it nonetheless cautioned.
The immigration minister who ordered Djokovic’s deportation, Alex Hawke, is no longer in office.
Multiple reports indicated that Australian government officials are not going on the record regarding the case because it involves a private legal case whose details only Djokovic has the right to divulge. Djokovic confirmed on Monday that he was in the process of attempting to overturn his ban on entering Australia but appeared not to have received any determination on the matter at the time.
“We are waiting. They are communicating with the government of Australia,” he told reporters following a match in Italy. “That’s all I can tell you for now.”
The directory of Tennis Australia, which runs the Australian Open, told the New York Times that Djokovic was following the same travel process as any other player.
“There’s a normal visa application process that everyone is going through right now, and everyone will go through the right timing,” Craig Tiley said.
Tiley was a major protagonist of January’s deportation saga, as the Australian Open itself advertised Djokovic’s presence at the tournament in December 2020, long before the government had processed his request for entry either way.
“The entry list is automatic based on your ranking and then in the next two weeks it’s determined who on that list is coming and then a couple of weeks after that, we do the draw,” Tiley attempted to explain at the time. “Players will pull themselves off the entry list if 100 percent they know they aren’t coming up, it’s not an actual list of confirmation of players in the Australian Open.”
Tiley’s Tennis Australia and Morrison’s government spent much of December publicly blaming each other for any potential issues with Djokovic’s application process before Djokovic arrived in Melbourne with a legal Australian visa in hand. Former Immigration Minister Alex Hawke ultimately chose to deport Djokovic not on the grounds of any irregularities in his visa process – though an unsubstantiated report in Der Spiegel, the German newspaper, accused Djokovic of fabricating a positive coronavirus result to use as medical exemption evidence – but out of fear that his presence in the country would incite “anti-vaccine sentiment.”
“What people probably don’t know is that I was not deported from Australia on the basis that I was not vaccinated, or I broke any rules or that I made an error in my visa declaration,” Djokovic told the BBC in February. “The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the Minister for Immigration used his discretion to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with.”
“You know, no one in the whole process – during the Australian saga – has asked me on my stance or my opinion on vaccination. No one,” he continued, expressing frustration. “So I could not really express, you know, what I feel and where my stance is, neither in the legal process, neither outside, so it’s really unfortunate that there has been this kind of misconception and wrong conclusion that has been made around the world based upon something that I complete disagree with.”
In that interview, Djokovic stated that he was willing to lose the opportunity to become the male tennis player with the most Grand Slam championships in history to maintain his bodily sovereignty.
“I understand that not being vaccinated today, I’m unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment. That is the price I’m willing to pay. The principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else,” Djokovic asserted.