Serbian president accuses Australia of Djokovic ‘witch hunt’
Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic has accused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of complicity in a ‘witch hunt’ against Novak Djokovic, as the tennis world number one faces deportation in a row over a medical exemption.
Djokovic, 34, is at an immigration center in Melbourne awaiting his fate after his visa was canceled upon arrival into Australia on Wednesday.
The Serbian star had been hoping to defend his title at the Australian Open later this month, after revealing he had been granted a medical exemption to compete by the tennis authorities and Victoria state.
But upon his arrival, the 20-time Grand Slam winner learned that his exemption was not sufficient for the federal authorities to allow him to enter the country.
The news drew a furious response from figures in Serbia, including President Vucic.
“What is not fair play is the political witch hunt (against Novak), by everybody including the Australian prime minister pretending that the rules apply to all,” Vucic told the media on Thursday.
Vucic described Djokovic’s treatment as “infamous in the proper sense of the term.”
“I fear that this relentless political pursuit of Novak will continue till the moment they can prove something, because when you cannot defeat somebody then you turn to these type of things,” he added.
After the news first broke of Djokovic’s border problems, Vucic had taken to Instagram to decry the situation.
“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him,” Vucic wrote. “Our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end, immediately.”
Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, reacted with similar fury, being quoted as saying that “this is a fight for the libertarian world, not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world.”
With the diplomatic fallout growing, Australian PM Morrison attempted to quell any notion of Djokovic being singled out as he spoke to the media on Thursday.
“I am aware of representations that have been made by the [Serbian] embassy here in Canberra and I understand those, but my simple point is that all countries have their border rules and these rules are not imposed against any one country or any one individual,” Morrison said.
“There is no suggestion of any particular position in relation to Serbia. In fact, Serbia has been a good friend of Australia and provided very strong support, particularly on security issues globally, and we greatly appreciate that.
“This is a very specific case that deals with one individual and Australia’s sovereign border laws and their fair application.”
Morrison has faced accusations that he is using the situation for political point-scoring at Djokovic’s expense, following a wave of outrage among Australians after the Serbian star was granted his medical exemption, despite requirements for players in Melbourne to otherwise be fully vaccinated.
Claims of impartial treatment towards Djokovic have not been helped by reports that other individuals connected with the Australian Open have already been allowed into the country with the same exemption as the Serbian star.
Meanwhile, fans waving Serbian flags have gathered outside the immigration hotel where Djokovic is being kept in Melbourne.
Djokovic found himself at the center of the scandal after revealing on Tuesday that he was heading to Australia for the Melbourne showpiece, which kicks off on January 17.
The nine-time champion announced he had been given a medical exemption following a review, conducted anonymously, by medial panels organized by Tennis Australia and Victorian state authorities.
But it would later appear that there were discrepancies between the exemption Djokovic was granted and the requirements from the federal government to enter the country, particularly regarding the status of people who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months.
“I can confirm that people who have contracted Covid-19 in the past six months and seek to enter Australia and have not received two doses of a TGA approved or recognized vaccine are not considered fully vaccinated,” Morrison said.
“That was the clear advice given by the minister for health to Tennis Australia… at the end of November of last year.
“So this is why I make the point to travelers, whatever people might tell you, what matters is what you are responsible for when you arrive at the border.”