Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley says "forever-changing conditions" and "miscommunication" with the federal government were the main reasons behind the Novak Djokovic saga that has tarred this year's Australian Open.
Speaking exclusively to ABC journalist Catherine Murphy on News Breakfast on Sunday, Tiley claimed Tennis Australia had sought clarity on multiple occasions from federal authorities, but that the evolving nature of the Omicron variant meant that "there was a lot of contradiction and complexity with information".
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"Why do you mistreat him, why do you harass him, as well as his family and a nation that is free and proud?" asked Serbia's president.After Immigration Minister Alex Hawke's decision focused attention on the world's No. 1's longstanding views on the vaccine and the pandemic, many of Djokovic's fellow Serbian citizens were critical of Australia.
A letter dated November 29 from federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to Craig Tiley clearly stated that a prior infection of COVID-19 would not be grounds for exemption from vaccination requirements for quarantine-free travel.
"It was an incredibly challenging environment," Tiley said.
"One or two bits of communication doesn't define all the amounts of communication that continued to go on leading into the event.
"We knew we were going to have a difficult period and that's why there was a lot of contradiction and complexity with information.
"And that's why, as an organisation, we continued to seek clarity so we can get to the point where we are today: We are half-way through what's been an unbelievable seven days, not only of tennis but our fans loving it and players also being very comfortable and loving it as well."
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In Serbia, Novak Djokovic is not just a tennis star, he's a national hero who has brought hope and light to the country after dark times, Isabella Higgins writes from Belgrade.In the southern suburbs of the capital Belgrade, the tennis star is memorialised with not one, but two murals in a complex of ageing concrete, brutalist, apartment buildings.
In his first non-network interview since last week's court case that resulted in world number one Novak Djokovic being deported from Australia on the recommendation of Federal Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, Tiley avoided directly answering questions about changes to rules around prior infection as grounds for exemption.
Djokovic said he believed he was entering Australia according to the rules after being granted an exemption from Tennis Australia's Chief Medical Officer in late December.
"Even just in the past week since [the ruling], things have changed in relation to the response to the pandemic," Tiley repeated during the interview.
"We were at the beginning of Omicron and that's why we were constantly seeking clarity, and there was a lot of complexity and contradiction of information before, after and it continues to be all the way through.
"Like we do every single year, we [will] go and review what we did well, what we can do better, what can we do that propels us into an unbelievable 2023."
Novak Djokovic appeals against visa cancellation in Federal Court hearing ahead of Australian Open
Lawyers for Novak Djokovic tell the full bench of the Federal Court that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has misinterpreted media reports about the tennis star's views on vaccination, and the level of support he receives from anti-vaxxers. They also say the minister failed to produce evidence the tennis star could fuel anti-vaccination sentiment by staying in Australia.The full bench of the Federal Court began sitting on Sunday morning to hear Djokovic's appeal against his visa cancellation.
Despite Tennis Australia being "the first global sport entertainment enterprise that ran an event in the middle of a pandemic" where they brought in "about a thousand players and coaches" for the 2021 Australian Open, Tiley said that this was "a changing environment that none of us have experienced before".
When asked whether there was internal pressure from the Tennis Australia board to make allowances for superstar players like Djokovic to the event, Tiley once again deflected.
"Any pressure to get players here is an annual pressure. It happens every single year.
"Tennis is different to other sports: We don't employ the players. So what we need to do is offer them an environment they absolutely love — and they do. This is their favourite place to play.
"For us, it is always about having the best players so we can have the best matches, the best showcase of our great city, also acknowledging that everyone in the city has been through a tough time."
Tiley also confirmed that Djokovic would not be suing Tennis Australia after reports suggested the deported player was pursuing legal avenues to have his court and travel costs covered.
"No," Tiley said.
"There is going to be lots of reports on different things, but we are in a position as we focus on delivering an event right now, and we will continue to deliver a great event."
Asked whether Djokovic would be returning to the event next year, despite the possibility that his visa could be revoked for up to three years, Tiley confirmed Djokovic was likely to return, pending the player's own decision.
"Yes," he said.
"Obviously, he's got to play out this year, but that will be his intention.
"At the end of the day, he's the number one player in the world and he really loves the Australian Open."