The long drawn out drama has undoubtedly dealt a big blow to the reputation of both — the tennis star as well as the Australian government.
It has also prompted many, Djokovic’s supporters and opposers alike, to wonder why the issue is being dragged out in the public domain when it could have been nipped in the bud.
Live updates: Djokovic visa row
World no.1 vs Australian rules
Djokovic’s saga began earlier this month when he arrived in Melbourne to play in the Australian Open.
He was hoping to cement his place in history as the first man to win 21 Grand Slam tournaments, surpassing the record he currently shares with Roger Federer and Rafal Nadal.
However, he ended up spending four nights confined to an immigration detention hotel after officials rejected his exemption to Australia’s strict vaccination rules and canceled his visa.
On Monday, he won a court fight on procedural grounds that allowed him to stay and practice, before immigration minister Alex Hawke made his decision on Friday.
Deportation from Australia can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the country, although that may be waived, depending on the circumstances.
‘Rules are rules’
Australia has long taken a severe stance on immigration, from the early days of its “White Australia” policy to its more recent practice of warehousing refugees in offshore detention camps. Many of its policies have been condemned by critics.
Djokovic isn’t the first celebrity to face this tough treatment.
British far-right commentator Katie Hopkins was deported from Australia last year after breaking quarantine rules. Back in 2007, American rapper Snoop Dogg was refused entry due to previous criminal convictions.
And in 2015, Australian authorities threatened to euthanize Pistol and Boo, the Yorkshire Terrier dogs owned by actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, which had been snuck into the country on the couple’s private jet. The dogs survived; the couple’s romance did not.
Politics at play
When Djokovic arrived in Australia a few days ago, the government showed familiar austerity.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the player would “be on the next plane home” if his documents were not in order on arrival in Melbourne.
“Rules are rules,” Morrison reiterated when Djokovic’s visa was first revoked on January 6.
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above th… https://t.co/OONyNdpAsT
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) 1641419815000
However, the Australian government found itself on a sticky wicket shortly thereafter when Djokovic challenged the revocation.
Morrison said it is up to the courts to decide. Then, the government asked for more time to compile its case.
The melee not only reflected poorly on Djokovic but also on the Australian government which is trying hard to save face with the voters as elections are due later this year. Many asked why Djokovic was granted entry to the country in the first place.
This also exposed the political tussle between the state and federal administrations, since the left-leaning Victoria government had granted entry to Djokovic in the first place.
Under Australia’s federal system, states and territories can issue exemptions from vaccination requirements to enter their jurisdictions. However, the federal government controls international borders and can challenge such exemptions.
The country has had a strict stance on vaccination and Covid rules right from the beginning. Clearly, giving a long rope to a celebrity tennis player would reflect poorly on the Morrison administration that is busy combating the Covid crisis.
Just for context, Australia is witnessing a tsunami of infections during the ongoing wave caused by Omicron with its two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, reporting tens of thousands of cases for weeks now. Melbourne, where the Grand Slam is held, lies in Victoria.
This could be a big reason why immigration minister Hawke used his powers to put the Serbian on the backfoot, just days before the tournament is scheduled to start.
Australia gives unusual authority to its immigration minister, which many refer to as the minister’s “god powers.” Hawke can essentially overrule the courts to deport people, with only narrow grounds for any appeals. He did so in Djokovic’s case.
He said that Djokovic’s visa was revoked “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”
And this goes well with the national sentiments too.
Despite being the top tennis player in the world, Djokovic’s anti-vaccine stand has not resonated well among the Australians .
Many have said that the Serbian must follow rules if he has to compete in the country.
According to a recent survey by NewsCorp, an overwhelming 83% of Australians said they want Djokovic to be deported.
Thus, at the risk of enraging some Djokovic supporters, the Australian government will push harder for Djokovic’s deportation.
Now, the tennis superstar has again gone to court to prevent his deportation from the country and keep alive (slim) hopes of competing in the grand slam.
Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood requested an injunction against the Serbian’s removal and appealed for him to be allowed to stay out of immigration detention as the case proceeds.
“We are very concerned about time,” Wood told an emergency hearing three days before Djokovic tries to defend his Australian Open crown.
For now, Australia has agreed to delay efforts to deport Djokovic until his renewed legal challenge concludes.
(With inputs from agencies)