Novak Djokovic has admitted an "error of judgement" in failing to isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 last month, and says his agent unintentionally provided incorrect information on his Australian visa application form.
The men's tennis world number one is awaiting a government decision on whether to revoke his visa, depriving him of a bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title in next week's Australian Open.
Djokovic took to social media to clarify what he called "ongoing misinformation" about his movements while he was infectious last month and about errors on the travel document he used to enter Australia.
There's been speculation that errors on his immigration form could potentially result in the cancellation of his visa. On Wednesday he described the speculation as "hurtful" and said he wanted to address it in the interest of "alleviating broader concern in the community about my presence in Australia".
The player's visa was revoked and then reinstated after he won a legal case allowing him to stay in the country, in a COVID-19 vaccination saga that has overshadowed the days leading up to the tournament.
Djokovic still faces the prospect of deportation because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19, a decision entirely at the discretion of Australia's immigration minister if deemed to be in the public interest.
'Error of judgement' in failing to isolate
The tennis star says he knew he had tested positive for COVID-19 when he attended a newspaper interview and photo shoot at his tennis centre in Serbia last month, saying on Wednesday he made an “error of judgement" and should have immediately gone into isolation.
Reports emerged that Djokovic attended events in his native Serbia last month after testing positive on December 16, including presenting awards to children the following day.
Djokovic said he’d taken rapid tests that were negative and he was asymptomatic in the days before he received his positive result from an approved PRC test he undertook out of an “abundance of caution” after attending a basketball game on December 14 “where it was reported that a number of people tested positive".
He received the result late December 17 and said he scrapped all his commitments except the long-standing interview with the French sports paper L'Equipe.
“I felt obligated to go ahead ... but did ensure I socially distanced and wore a mask except when my photograph was being taken,” Djokovic said in the statement. “While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled the commitment.”
Travel form apology
Novak Djokovic's comments were posted in a statement on his social media accounts while he trained in Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena, holding a practice session against Tristan Schoolkate, a 20-year-old Australian.
He addressed the travel declaration by saying it was submitted on his behalf by his support team and that “my agent sincerely apologizes for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box.”
On the form, Djokovic said he had not travelled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia. However, the Monte Carlo-based athlete was seen in Spain and Serbia in that two-week period.
“This was a human error and certainly not deliberate,” he wrote. “The team has provided additional information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter.”
At issue is whether he has a valid exemption to rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia since he recently recovered from COVID-19.
The decision could take a while. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s office issued a statement saying Djokovic’s legal team had filed further documents against the the potential cancellation of his visa and added: “Naturally, this will affect the timeframe for a decision.”
Pressure for decision grows as tournament approaches
Novak Djokovic has now been in Australia for close on a week. The first round of the tournament begins on Sunday and the draw is due to take place this Thursday.
The government is under pressure but the decision is far from easy following the events of recent days that many see as a fiasco. Djokovic was held up for several hours at Melbourne airport and then confined to a detention hotel, before winning a court case where the judge ruled the process had been unfair.
There's growing concern in the community, meanwhile, with COVID-19 cases surging.
Victoria state, whose capital Melbourne is hosting the Australian Open starting next week, reported 21 deaths Wednesday along with 40,127 new cases.
Deputy Premier James Merlino said the state’s healthcare system is strained, with around 6,600 workers off duty after testing positive or coming into close contact with a positive case, and new pandemic orders are coming into force to make booster shots mandatory for critical workers.
Australia-based immigration lawyer Greg Barnes told The Associated Press that if Hawke does take action, he could choose to simply cancel Djokovic’s visa or give the tennis star notice of his intention to cancel it.
Barnes said Hawke has "a personal power," which means he doesn't have to accord natural justice if he decides it's in the public interest to cancel the visa.
If Djokovic's visa is cancelled, his lawyers could go back to court to apply for an injunction that would prevent him from being forced to leave the country.
Hawke “can go the natural justice route (but) he doesn’t have to comply with natural justice, so he can just cancel it," Barnes said. ”Then you have to go to court to try to get that set aside and that’s very difficult."
If the government does issue a notice of intent, Barnes said it could give Djokovic five to nine days to respond, depending on when he receives it.
“That might be a way of giving Djokovic a chance in the tournament and then kicking him out at the end of that,” Barnes said. “In my experience, it’s relatively rare for them to change their mind.”