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Novak Djokovic's Australian Open bid in balance amid questions over visa application

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By Euronews with AP
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A mural depicting Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic on a wall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.
A mural depicting Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic on a wall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

There are new questions over Novak Djokovic’s application to enter Australia after court documents appeared to suggest the tennis star did not give correct information about his movements before travelling to the country.

The men's world number one is awaiting a decision from the federal government — expected on Tuesday — on whether to revoke his visa for a second time and deport him, depriving him of the chance to bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title in next week's Australian Open.

On Monday a court ordered that Djokovic be released from immigration detention after quashing his visa cancellation by the authorities over his vaccination status, citing procedural errors.

Documents released by the Federal Circuit Court revealed that the 34-year-old Serb — who has confirmed that he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 — told authorities he had not travelled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia.

Djokovic touched down in Melbourne just before midnight on Wednesday, answering “no” to the question about previous travel on his Australian Travel Declaration form.

But the reigning Australian Open champion was filmed playing tennis in the streets of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on Christmas Day, and training in Spain on December 31 — both dates within the 14-day window.

The declaration notes that giving false or misleading information is a serious offence, and civil penalties are also available.

Djokovic told border officers that Tennis Australia completed the declaration on his behalf, but it was noted by the officer who cancelled his visa that the sporting body would have facilitated that “based on information the visa holder provided.”

Since Djokovic’s visa was cancelled, Czech tennis player Renata Voráčová and an unnamed European tennis official have been deported for similar reasons.

Australian soul searching over visa debacle

On Monday the circuit judge hearing Djokovic's case noted that the player had provided officials at Melbourne’s airport with a medical exemption given him by Tennis Australia — which is organising the tournament — and two medical panels.

But Australian Border Force officials did not accept the exemption and Djokovic was sent to an immigration detention hotel, pending his appeal.

To enter Australia, travellers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have an exemption with a genuine medical reason.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's conservative government has blamed the debacle on Tennis Australia, which ministers accuse of misleading players about Australia’s vaccine requirements.

But newspapers have reported that Tennis Australia had pleaded with the Department of Home Affairs to check the visa paperwork of Djokovic and other players before they boarded planes. The department did not.

The opposition home affairs spokesperson, Kristina Keneally, blamed the confusion over the tennis star’s visa on a lack of planning by the government.

It should have been clear about whether it was right for Djokovic to enter the country to play in the Australian Open when it initially granted him the visa, Keneally said.

“If (he) gets deported it does incredible damage to Australia. If he gets to stay it does incredible damage to our tough border laws and is a real insult to the Australians who did the hard work of lockdowns and vaccination,” Keneally told the Seven Network television.

Keneally said the Djokovic saga made Australia “look like a bit of a joke” on the world stage.

Daniel Andrews, premier of Victoria state which is hosting the Australian Open, said the federal government had changed its border rules in recent months.

“When we talked about exemptions previously, you would recall that Minister Hawke had said that it was his expectation that if you weren’t double vaxxed, you wouldn’t get into the country whether you’re playing tennis or doing anything else,” said Andrews, who like Keneally is a member of the center-left Labor Party.

“Turned out that wasn’t the Commonwealth government’s position and that they have been letting people in who haven’t been double vaxxed,” Andrews added.