Novak Djokovic back in immigration detention ahead of visa appeal hearing
Novak Djokovic is back in immigration detention in Australia ahead of his appeal against the re-cancellation of his visa on Sunday (16 January) morning.
The tennis star, 34, was driven to the Park Hotel, where he spent four nights last week, after meeting with his lawyers for several hours.
The world number one’s legal team have been preparing his case following the decision of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday (14 January) to cancel his visa for a second time on the grounds of “health and good order”.
Just before 6pm (7am UK time) on Friday, Hawke released a statement, saying: “Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.
“This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10 January 2022, quashing a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds.
“In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic.
“The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
A brief procedural hearing was held the following morning, where Justice David O’Callaghan confirmed the case has been transferred from the Federal Circuit Court and the main hearing will take place at 9.30am on Sunday (10.30pm on Saturday UK time).
Djokovic is appealing against the decision on the grounds that it was both affected by jurisdictional error and irrational, but the threshold for success is much higher than in the first hearing.
Why was Djokovic’s visa cancelled?
It emerged on Friday that Hawke based his finding not on the validity or otherwise of Djokovic’s medical exemption, but on the potential for his continued presence in the country to stoke anti-vaccination sentiments and a threat to public order.
Hawke cited the tennis star’s status as a “high profile unvaccinated individual, who has indicated publicly that he is opposed to becoming vaccinated against Covid-19” and said he had “publicly expressed anti-vaccination sentiment”.
The immigration minister said he believed that not cancelling his visa could encourage Australians not to take the vaccine, increasing pressure on the health service.
He said: “I consider that his ongoing presence in Australia may pose a risk to the good order of the Australian community.”
Hawke gave significant weight to Djokovic’s admission that he attended an interview with L’Equipe last month, despite knowing he had tested positive for Covid-19, and argued that Australians may follow suit.
He added: “I have also given consideration to the fact that Mr Djokovic has, in the past, shown an apparent disregard for the need to isolate following the receipt of a positive Covid-19 test result.”
Djokovic’s release from detention on Monday (10 January) resulted in police pepper-spraying his supporters and Hawke cited the possibility of civil unrest, although his lawyers will argue on Sunday that the same could result from his deportation.
The minister also dismissed Djokovic’s arguments that the cancellation of his visa would either be seen as politically motivated or jeopardise the viability of the country hosting the Australian Open.
The appeal hearing on Sunday will take place before a full court of three judges, which limits Hawke’s opportunities to appeal should his decision be overturned.
Will Djokovic play in the Australian Open?
Djokovic's lawyers had been pushing for a hearing to take place on Sunday, in the hope of a decision being made before the Australian Open begins.
The 34 year-old is due to play his first-round match at the Australian Open against fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday.
A timetable was agreed on Friday, with Djokovic to be detained at 8am on Saturday morning for a meeting with immigration officials before meeting with his lawyers, who are also under detention.
The decision to re-cancel his visa means Djokovic faces a three-year ban from Australia, which could mean he never plays at the Australian Open again - although that can be waived.
There has been strong criticism of the way the Australian Government has handled the situation, but public opinion has been firmly in favour of Djokovic being sent home.
The situation has also sparked frustration among other players after the saga has overshadowed the Australian Open.Speaking at a pre-tournament news conference, long-time rival Rafa Nadal said: "Honestly, I'm a little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it's important to talk about our sport, about tennis.
"It's very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, without a doubt. But there is no one player in history that's more important than an event.
"Australian Open is much more important than any player. If he's playing finally, OK. If he's not playing, Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him."
"Everyone chooses his road. I wish him all the best. I really respect him, even if I do not agree with a lot of things that he did the last couple of weeks."