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10 Jan, 2022 06:28

Djokovic to be released from detention in Australia

An Australian judge has ordered the release of world number one Novak Djokovic from a detention center in Melbourne
Djokovic to be released from detention in Australia

Novak Djokovic has won his appeal against deportation after an Australian judge ruled that the tennis star had been detained unfairly upon his arrival in the country last week.

Djokovic, 34, had arrived in Melbourne to defend his title at the Australian Open and believed he had been granted a medical exemption from Covid vaccination to enter the country.

But upon his arrival last Wednesday, the Serbian star was detained after border officials deemed he did not meet the rules for an exemption for entry and subsequently canceled his visa.  

Djokovic was held at a Melbourne immigration detention hotel and appealed the decision, with his case being heard at a Federal Circuit Court on Monday.

After lengthy proceedings, Judge Anthony Kelly ruled that Djokovic’s visa cancelation order be quashed immediately, meaning the 20-time Grand Slam champion will be released from detention, having earlier been allowed to leave his confinement while the hearing took place.  

In a saga that has gripped the sporting world and developed into an international diplomatic scandal, there could yet be more twists to come if the Australian government decides to challenge Monday’s court decision.

As noted by government barrister Christopher Tran, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has the possibility of intervening personally to cancel Djokovic’s visa again, if the authorities choose to.

The tennis star was held in what were widely described as challenging conditions as his supporters from Serbia and beyond decried his treatment.

At Monday’s hearing, the Australian government was forced to accept that it had not given Djokovic sufficient time to speak to others and respond fully before notifying him of the intention to cancel his visa.

The government was ordered to pay Djokovic’s legal costs, release him within 30 minutes of the court order, and return his passport and personal items.

It remains to be seen how the Australian authorities – and indeed the Australian people – respond to the news of Djokovic’s release.

Prime Minister Morrison had asserted that “rules are rules” after Djokovic was initially detained, making clear that the tennis star’s status was irrelevant in the face of border laws.

Australia has enforced some of the strictest lockdown conditions anywhere in the world during the pandemic, and many locals had initially reacted with anger to the news that Djokovic – who is not vaccinated against Covid-19 – was due to play in Melbourne.

Djokovic did, however, win sympathy for his plight after seemingly being given assurances by the Australian tennis authorities that he would be free to enter the country and appear at a tournament he has won a record nine times – including the past three years in a row.

After Djokovic was moved to a notorious Melbourne immigration center, his fans rallied outside to show their support while his case became a lightning rod for arguments surrounding vaccine mandates.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused the Australian authorities – including PM Morrison – of conducting a “political witch hunt” against Djokovic.

Djokovic himself will now want to turn his attentions back to preparing to defend his title in Melbourne, where the tournament runs from January 17 to 30, although the legal wrangling and broader fallout from his extraordinary case is unlikely to die down anytime soon.