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Djokovic out of the Australian Open after court rejects visa challenge

In a virtual hearing on Sunday, three Federal Court judges unanimously dismissed Djokovic’s application to overturn the immigration minister’s decision to cancel his visa, but did not publish reasons for the ruling.

The world No. 1 was scheduled to play Monday night in the Australian Open, where he had hoped to win a record-breaking 21st men’s grand slam title.

The high-profile, off-the-court saga pitting one of tennis’s biggest stars against Australia’s government and public health officials has overshadowed the lead-up to the year’s first tennis grand slam.

In a statement, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” by the decision and would co-operate with authorities in relation to his departure from the country.

“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” the statement added.

“I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.”

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke welcomed the court’s decision and emphasized the government’s commitment to maintaining strong border policies.

Australia has previously had some of the toughest border policies in the world to keep out Covid. Hawke said those rules had kept Australians “safe” during the pandemic and were “fundamental” in “safe-guarding Australia’s social cohesion.”

“Australians have made great sacrifices to get to this point,” the statement said.

Although Covid-19 cases are rising in Australia, the country has a relatively low death toll compared to other countries.

Last week the country surpassed one million Covid cases over the entire pandemic — but more than half of those were acquired in the last two weeks.

What happened in court

Sunday’s hastily convened Federal Court hearing considered whether Hawke’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa was “unreasonable.”

The 34-year-old Serbian tennis star challenged the immigration minister’s decision on three grounds, including that the minister failed to properly consider the consequences of canceling his visa.

Djokovic’s barrister Nick Wood said Hawke’s decision was “irrational” as the minister had failed to consider that the act itself could galvanize anti-vaxxers — the very thing the government wanted to prevent.

But Stephen Lloyd, the lawyer for Hawke, said under Australia’s Migration Law the minister didn’t need to prove Djokovic was a risk to public health, just that he “might” be.

He said Djokovic’s anti-vax attitudes were apparent by his failure to be vaccinated, despite having an opportunity to do so before arriving in Australia.

He added that the perception that Djokovic opposed vaccination was enough to risk inciting anti-vaxxers in the country, and that the tennis star’s apparent disregard for Covid-19 rules meant there was a risk others would emulate his actions and ignore public health orders.

A long-running saga

The saga began nearly two weeks ago, when Djokovic’s visa was first revoked shortly after his arrival on January 5.

Under current Australian laws, all international arrivals are required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 — which Djokovic is not — unless they have a medical exemption.

Djokovic said he was under the impression he could enter because two independent panels associated with Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government had granted him an exemption on the grounds that he had been infected with Covid-19 in December.

What we know: Novak Djokovic and Australian Open timeline

The federal government argued that, under its rules, previous infection with Covid-19 is not a valid reason for an exemption.

On his arrival in Australia, Djokovic was taken to the Park Hotel in Melbourne, which is also used as a detention center for refugees, while lawyers prepared a case to overturn the decision.

On Monday, Judge Anthony Kelly ruled that border officers had been “unreasonable” when they canceled his initial visa to enter Australia and ordered Djokovic to be freed from immigration detention.

Djokovic’s visa was revoked for the second time on Friday by Hawke, but the government agreed not to deport the tennis star over the weekend before his case had concluded.

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