Djokovic not held ‘captive’, free to leave whenever he chooses, Australia says
Australia’s home affairs minister has dismissed any suggestion Novak Djokovic is being held “captive” in a Melbourne hotel, declaring the world No 1 is free to leave the country whenever he chooses.
Djokovic is being held in an immigration hotel until Monday when he will challenge in court the federal government’s Thursday decision to cancel his visa, the Guardian reported.
The home affairs minister, Karen Andrews, said on Friday that other international players and officials who had already been allowed into the country on a similar vaccine exemption to Djokovic were being investigated by border force officials.
She rejected accusations from the Serb star’s family that the Australian government was “keeping him in captivity”.
“Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia,” Andrews told the national broadcaster ABC. “He is free to leave [the country] at any time that he chooses to do so and border force will actually facilitate that.”
The Victorian state government on Friday said it had not seen correspondence between the federal government and Tennis Australia in late November that stipulated unvaccinated players could not enter the country on the basis they had previously been infected with COVID-19.
It is believed – although not confirmed – that Djokovic was granted an exemption to play at the Australian Open based on him having previously contracted COVID-19.
“I can confirm people who contracted COVID-19 within the past six months and seek to enter Australia from overseas, and have not received two doses of a TGA-approved vaccine or TGA-recognised vaccine, are not considered fully vaccinated,” the federal health minister wrote to the Tennis Australia boss, Craig Tiley.
Tiley and the sport’s governing body in Australia declined multiple requests for comment on Friday.
Andrews, however, confirmed the Australian Border Force, which she oversees, was looking at other individuals who have travelled in similar circumstances to Djokovic for the Open.
Andrews could not say how many players were being investigated, adding anyone entering Australia had to show evidence of their vaccination or medical reasons why they were not vaccinated.
“I know there is a lot of chatter about the visa. The visa, on my understanding, is not the issue, it is the entry requirement,” she said. “Border force has been very clear that he [Djokovic] was not able to meet the requirement to provide the evidence he needed for entry to Australia.”
The Victorian government sought to distance itself from the debacle by claiming visa approval was the commonwealth’s responsibility and it had not been told about the letters to Tennis Australia from the federal health minister and, subsequently, his department.
“I’m advised that members of the Victorian government hadn’t seen that correspondence,” the state’s acting premier, Jacinta Allan, said.
“We wouldn’t necessarily see it … but it reinforces that point that it is the commonwealth government … that’s responsible for issuing visas and how they engage in that dialogue with Tennis Australia is a matter for them.”
The world No 1 faces another two days in the Park Hotel alongside refugees and asylum seekers.
He is waiting for a hearing in the federal circuit court on Monday which will determine whether he can defend the Australian crown he’s won nine times.
Meanwhile the outcry in Serbia over the treatment of Djokovic is growing with protests in Belgrade. His father, Srdjan, promised a rally would be held every day until Djokovic was released.
Australia’s ambassador in Belgrade, Daniel Emery, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and urged to make personal efforts to assist Djokovic. The ministry said Australia had acted in bad faith towards the tennis star.
“The Serbian public has a strong impression that Djokovic is a victim of a political game against his will and that he was lured to travel to Australia in order to be humiliated,” it said in a statement.
“Novak Djokovic is not a criminal, terrorist or illegal migrant, but he was treated that way by the Australian authorities.”
Former Davis Cup player Paul McNamee, the Australian Open tournament director from 1995 until 2006, argued the 34-year-old deserved his day on the court – not in court.
“It’s not fair. The guy played by the rules, he got his visa, he arrives, he’s a nine-time champion and whether people like it or not he’s entitled to fair play,” McNamee told the ABC.
Australian tennis player Nick Kygrios tweeted: “How we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad. Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.”