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14 Jan, 2022 12:27

There’s no spinning it – Australian officials should be ashamed of Novak Djokovic treatment

Novak Djokovic is facing deportation after his visa was canceled for a second time in a deplorable saga Down Under
There’s no spinning it – Australian officials should be ashamed of Novak Djokovic treatment

Australian officials should hang their heads in shame at the treatment meted out to world number one Novak Djokovic, in a row which reeks of political grandstanding and injustice.

So here we are again. For the second time in as many weeks, Novak Djokovic finds himself threatened with being kicked out of Australia after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision on Friday to re-cancel his visa.  

Djokovic is being told to pack his bags just before the start of next week’s Australian Open. Given a stay of execution by a Melbourne federal circuit court judge on Monday, the Serb might not be so lucky the second time around given the dogged determination of Australian federal officials to give him the boot.

As the legal wrangling drags on in the coming days, one thing has always seemed abundantly clear in Djokovic’s case: he traveled to Australia in good faith after receiving a medical exemption granted by Tennis Australia and the Victoria state authorities.

As we’ve discovered in the course of the past few days, Djokovic is definitely unvaccinated against Covid-19. Considering his past comments, that will come as little surprise.

But his recovery from a Covid infection in December was judged to be sufficient grounds for a medical exemption by not one but two independent medical panels organized by Tennis Australia and Victoria state.

Surely officials of such standing, organizing a tournament of such long-running prestige as the Australian Open, would know the rules, right?

As it turns out, there was a distinct lack of joined-up thinking with the federal authorities. Health officials insisted they warned Tennis Australia that a recent prior infection was not sufficient reason for a vaccine exemption if individuals are unvaccinated. A letter sent in November was used as evidence to back that up.

Hapless Australian Open chief Craig Tiley is definitely one man who comes out of this sorry tale with his reputation diminished. 

Wires were crossed, but it’s clear that from the moment a grinning Djokovic announced his departure for Melbourne in a social media post on January 4, the knives were out. This time there would be no red carpet rolled out for the nine-time Australian Open champion – the most successful male competitor in the history of the event.

Subjected to questioning upon arrival which dragged into the early hours of the morning, Djokovic had his visa unceremoniously canceled and was dumped in an immigration detention hotel notorious for its conditions. One long-term resident described the conditions to RT as “hell.”

Djokovic was fortunate in comparison when he was released after four nights when Melbourne federal circuit court judge Anthony Kelly deemed the behavior towards the tennis star by border officials to have been “unreasonable.” 

Some might say Djokovic’s treatment stank of a pre-determined desperation to keep him out of the country – indeed, others with the same kind of medical exemption had already been allowed into Australia. Sadly, they would become collateral damage as the Djokovic drama played out.  

Is all this surprising when you consider Australian border policies down the years? From the notorious decades-long ‘White Australia’ policy to the equally infamous Pacific detention centers set up in more recent years; from Snoop Dogg to Johnny Depp’s actual dogs – many have fallen foul of Aussie border rules.

‘Fine’, some might say – a government has a right to protect its borders. Djokovic’s case is also a particularly sensitive one given the conditions everyday Australians have endured during the pandemic.

To be clear, Djokovic himself has had plenty of questions to answer, including the incorrect information on his Australian travel declaration, and – more importantly – why he did not self-isolate more fully on learning of his positive Covid test.

But hell-bent on keeping Djokovic out, Aussie PM Morrison justified the decision by his ally Hawke on Friday by saying that Djokovic’s presence would undermine the “sacrifices” made by Australians throughout the pandemic.

The reasoning from Hawke and Morrison is that they are somehow protecting the population by removing Djokovic. But protecting them from what? A man who has been deemed to have natural immunity from a recent Covid infection, and who will pack his bags and leave anyway once his tournament is over? Or the threat that somehow Djokovic will incite the anti-vaxx community in a country which has already fully jabbed almost 80% of its population?   

The main protection here is for muddle-minded politicians covering their own backsides, for fear of a backlash from a public subjected to the most stringent lockdown conditions anywhere on the planet. It all leaves the lingering bad taste of selective justice amid a backdrop of political point-scoring and grandstanding.

The very timing of the decision by Hawke feeds into the suspicious of Djokovic being mistreated – late on a Friday, four days after the ruling to give Djokovic his visa back and free him from detention. The Serb has been ‘hamstrung’ in his latest defense as one legal observer noted, and as Djokovic’s team alluded in their latest arguments on Friday night.

When he presents again to immigration officials on Saturday morning in Melbourne, why should Djokovic expect it to go any different to the first time he was interrogated in the early hours of the morning at Tullamarine Airport on January 6?

Morrison and his crew will undoubtedly have support from plenty of Aussies, but all hell has broken loose in the process. Police have pepper-sprayed Djokovic supporters on the streets of Melbourne; similar unrest shouldn’t be ruled if Djokovic does finally end up getting the boot. As a nation hosting a major sporting spectacle, Australia’s reputation is in tatters. 

This whole sorry saga – from start to finish – has been an ugly cocktail of contradictions and political machinations.

And worst of all, there’s even more to come.  

By Liam Tyler 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.