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Sports: Top-ranked Novak Djokovic spends religious day in detention

Will he stay or will he go? Djokovic's hearing looms large

  Will he stay or will he go? Djokovic's hearing looms large After four nights in an Australian immigration detention hotel, Novak Djokovic will get his day in court Monday in a deportation case that has polarized opinions and elicited heartfelt support for the top-ranked tennis star in his native Serbia. Djokovic had his visa canceled after arriving at Melbourne airport last week when Australian border officials ruled that he didn’t meet the criteria for an exemption to an entry requirement that all non-citizens be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. His lawyers have since filed court papers in his challenge against deportation from Australia that show Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 last month and recovered.

  Top-ranked Novak Djokovic spends religious day in detention © Provided by The Canadian Press

Regardless of who made an error on the visa or the vaccination waiver or whatever, the reality Friday for tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic was spending one of his important religious holidays in an Australian detention hotel working on his challenge against deportation.

Djokovic has been receiving calls from Serbia, including from his parents and the president, hoping to boost his spirits. A priest from the Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church in Melbourne sought permission from immigration authorities to visit the nine-time Australian Open champion to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas.

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“Our Christmas is rich in many customs and it is so important that a priest visits him,” the church's dean, Milorad Locard, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "The whole thing around this event is appalling. That he has to spend Christmas in detention ... it is unthinkable.”

Djokovic's supporters gathered outside the Park Hotel, used to house refugees and asylum seekers near downtown Melbourne, waving flags and banners.

They mixed with human rights advocates who were there more to highlight the plight of other longer-term people in detention, many who have long complained about their living conditions and exposure to the coronavirus in the pandemic.

A day after both the prime minister and the home affairs minister said it was the responsibility of the individual to have their visa documents in order, it seemed to dawn on people locally that whatever mistakes happened in the process, one of the highest-profile athletes in the world was in detention.

TIMELINE: Novak Djokovic's bid to compete at Australian Open

  TIMELINE: Novak Djokovic's bid to compete at Australian Open The Australian government on Friday revoked tennis star Novak Djokovic's visa for a second time, just three days before the Australian Open begins. Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal the cancellation in the Federal Circuit and Family Court, as they successfully did the first time. Melbourne-based immigration lawyer Kian Bone said that Djokovic’s lawyers face an “extremely difficult” task to get court orders over the weekend to allow their client to play next week. His exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to compete was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, which apparently allowed him to receive a visa to travel.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported later Friday that Renata Voracova, a 38-year-old doubles player from the Czech Republic, had her visa canceled and was taken to the same hotel where Djokovic is staying. Tennis Australia and Australia's Home Affairs department did not immediately respond to calls for confirmation.

Djokovic flew to Australia confident he had everything he needed to compete, given he had been approved by Victoria state government for a medical exemption.

That same evidence didn't comply with the Australian government's regulations.

So, instead of preparing to defend his Australian Open title, and bid to win a men's-record 21st major title, he's preparing to go to the Federal Circuit Court on Monday to challenge his visa cancellation and deportation.

Attention is moving away from Djokovic’s vaccination status — a touchy topic in a city where people spent so long in lockdown and were subject to harsh travel restrictions — and onto questions about how the nine-time Australian Open champion could have wound up in this situation.

Report: Djokovic back in immigration detention in Australia

  Report: Djokovic back in immigration detention in Australia MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic was reported to be back in immigration detention Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid being deported from Australia for being unvaccinated for COVID-19 was moved to a higher court. A Federal Court hearing has been scheduled for Sunday, a day before the men’s No. 1-ranked tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion was due to begin his title defense at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year. Police closed down a lane behind the building where Djokovic’s lawyers are based and two vehicles exited the building mid-afternoon local time on Saturday.


Video: Novak Djokovic denied entry to Australia after vaccine exemption (cbc.ca)

Even some who have been critical of Djokovic in the past are now in his corner.

“Look, I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mums health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad,” Nick Kyrgios, an Australian player and outspoken critic of some of Djokovic’s opinions on vaccinations, posted on Twitter. “This is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.”

Jelena Djokovic posted on social media to thank her husband's supporters.

“Thank you dear people, all around the world for using your voice to send love to my husband,” she posted on Twitter. “I am taking a deep breath to calm down and find gratitude (and understanding) in this moment for all that is happening.”

Critics of the medical exemptions have said if there were no loopholes, then nobody would be in Djokovic's position right now. And while players have sympathized with Djokovic's situation, some have said getting vaccinated would have prevented the problems.

Novak Djokovic "Extremely disappointed": its first reaction after the decision of the Australian judges confirming that it will be expelled from Australia

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Djokovic has been a vaccine skeptic, and has declined to acknowledge if he's had shots for COVID-19, but there can't be any doubt he traveled to Australia believing his paperwork was all in order.

The medical-exemption applications from players, their teams and tennis officials were vetted by two independent panels of medical experts at the state level. Djokovic had an approved exemption allowing him into the tournament.

But when he landed at the airport, the Australian government’s Border Force canceled Djokovic’s visa, saying he “failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements.”

Australia’s strict COVID-19 laws dictate that incoming travelers must have had two shots of an approved vaccine, or must have an exemption with a genuine medical reason, such as an acute condition, to avoid quarantine.

Tennis Australia said Djokovic’s request for an exemption “was granted following a rigorous review process.” Neither Tennis Australia nor Djokovic revealed the reason he sought an exemption.

The Australian Border Force rejected his exemption as invalid, canceled his visa and then moved him to the immigration hotel. His lawyers worked urgently to ensure he could stay until Monday, when the a federal judge will hear his challenge, a week before the Australian Open is set to start.

After the news broke of the visa cancellation, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the “completely legitimate application and process” and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic.

He said only 26 people connected with the tournament applied for a medical exemption — to avoid the rule that all players, staff, officials and fans needed to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter Melbourne Park — and only a “handful” were granted. None, except Djokovic, who posted it himself on social media, were publicly identified. However, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews on Friday said two others were under investigation.

Tiley hasn't commented officially since then.

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John Pye, The Associated Press

Djokovic out, but vaccine debate stays in Australian Open .
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — To some, it seemed a cloud had been lifted from the Australian Open. To others, Novak Djokovic still was almost palpably present, the name on everyone's lips on the opening day of the first major tennis tournament of the year. Djokovic left Australia late Sunday when he failed in his legal challenge to overturn the cancellation of his visa due to his lack of a COVID-19 vaccination. His flight from Melbourne was touching down in Dubai early Monday just as the first matches of the tournament began. As the No. 1-ranked male player and the three-time defending champion, Djokovic would have been the marquee attraction of the tournament.

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