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18 Jan, 2022 09:36

Tennis Australia finally issues statement on Djokovic debacle – with one glaring omission

Officials at Tennis Australia say they ‘respect’ the decision to deport Novak Djokovic
Tennis Australia finally issues statement on Djokovic debacle – with one glaring omission

Tennis Australia has issued a statement following the deportation of Novak Djokovic which failed to mention the world number one by name.

Just one day before he was due to begin the defense of his Australian Open title, Djokovic was sent packing on Sunday after a panel of federal court judges unanimously ruled in favor of the decision by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to cancel the Serbian star’s visa.

The unvaccinated Djokovic had arrived Down Under with a medical exemption granted by Tennis Australia and Victoria state officials, although that was deemed insufficient grounds for entry by border forces.  

Amid criticism over their handling of the debacle – and calls from some quarters for CEO Craig Tiley to step down – Tennis Australia issued a statement on Tuesday but omitted any direct reference to the nine-time Melbourne champion.

“We would like to make clear from the outset that we respect the decision of the Immigration Minister and the finding of the Federal Court of Australia over the weekend,” the message read.

“Australian Open 2022 has now commenced, and our priority has always been to put on one of the world’s greatest sporting events and ensure we are delivering the best possible experience for all our players, the fans, and the community.

“The Australian Open is a showcase of Melbourne and Australia and much loved by players from all over the world.

“Tennis Australia has been working closely with both the Federal and Victorian government for the past year to deliver a COVID safe Australian Open for the players, staff, and fans.

“Embarking on a major international sporting event during a global pandemic that continues to evolve and challenge us all, is profoundly demanding for all stakeholders.

“The board and Member Associations commend the Tennis Australia CEO and the entire Tennis Australia team for their hard work and dedication to delivering a spectacular summer of tennis.”

Still avoiding any mention of Djokovic, who arrived back in Serbia to a hero’s welcome on Monday, the statement admitted that tennis officials “regretted” the impact of the drawn-out saga on players.     

“As the Australian tennis family, we recognise that recent events have been a significant distraction for everyone, and we deeply regret the impact this had on all players,” it said.

“There are always lessons to learn, and we will review all aspects of our preparation and implementation to inform our planning – as we do every year. That process always starts once the Australian Open champions have lifted their trophies.

“Australia has a strong and proud tennis tradition, and it has been fantastic to see the crowds out cheering for the world’s best players in the lead up to and over the opening days of the Australian Open.

“We, like the players, and all tennis fans here and around the world, are keen for the focus to now be on the game we are all so passionate about.

“We are looking forward to a brilliant two weeks of tennis ahead,” it concluded.

Some were quick to pick up on the fact that the message was a response to Djokovic’s deportation – and yet did not mention him.

“[Tennis Australia] released a statement on Djokovic saga without mentioning Djokovic. Quite an achievement,” tweeted tennis journalist Sasa Ozmo.

The Australian Open has attempted to draw a line under the saga, although that may not be enough to quell lingering questions over why Djokovic traveled to the country in the belief that he would be allowed in, only to find that the federal authorities deemed his medical exemption insufficient grounds to enter.  

Djokovic was granted a vaccine exemption based on his recovery from a Covid infection in December, which was cleared by two independent medical panels set up by Tennis Australia and the Victoria state authorities.

After the cancelation of his visa, Djokovic could find himself banned from Australia for three years unless officials agree there are “compelling circumstances” to allow him to return.