Explained: Why Novak Djokovic was denied a visa for the Australian Open - despite getting a medical exemption

Novak Djokovic was dramatically denied entry into Australia ahead of the Australian Open 2022 after the visa he applied for was cancelled.

World No 1 men's tennis player Novak Djokovic; Credit: Twitter/@DjokerNole

Novak Djokovic will not be taking part in the 2022 Australian Open. At least that’s how things are as the situation stands. And what a situation it has been, one that has arguably been brewing for months.

The dramatic decision to deny him a visa and scupper his hopes of defending his crown was the latest in a long “will he, won’t he” regarding Djokovic and the Grand Slam.

But it does not undermine the seriousness of the situation. Indeed, it isn’t simply the fact that the world’s top-ranked male tennis player won’t be at the tournament.

There is also the fact that Djokovic’s stance on vaccines and his history of causing issues during the COVID-19 pandemic has made this an issue on vaccination itself.

And, of course, it is a political issue given everyone in Australia – including their Prime Minister Scott Morrison – has had a say in how it has played out.

But why has it all come to this? Especially since Djokovic clearly stated on social media that he got a medical exemption to play in the tournament.

This, after all, is how the rule works; if you are not double jabbed, you need to get an exemption otherwise you can’t play.

Here we look to analyse the situation and how it came down to this.

What exactly happened at Melbourne with Novak Djokovic?

Novak Djokovic arrived at Melbourne on Wednesday but was held up upon arrival. The reason? There were doubts over his visa and exemption from vaccine requirements.

Eventually, the Australian Border Force announced his visa had been cancelled.

“The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements,” said their statement.

“The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled.”

This was puzzling, simply because Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government made it clear that he had been given an exemption beforehand.

So why was his visa cancelled?

This is where things get a bit complex, simply because there are a lot of unknowns. For instance, no one knows why exactly Djokovic was given the exemption.

However, the guidelines for such exemptions are set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, or ATAGI for short.

And the reasons include either having adverse effects to a previous vaccine dose or having an acute medical condition. If a person has tested positive for COVID in the past 6 months, that too can be used as a reason.

Again, the official reason for Djokovic’s exemption request is not known. However, it is believed to be that he recently tested positive for COVID.

But it is here that things get even more complicated.

The one time Djokovic tested positive for COVID was in May 2020, which blows the six-month rule out of the water. Unless of course he tested positive some time in the last six months and did not make it public.

And even if he did test positive recently, there is another reason as to why his visa request got denied.

A report in the Guardian says that Tennis Australia was told in writing more than once that even if a player had tested positive in recent times, they needed to be double vaccinated to enter Australia without a quarantine.

These report also said that ATAGI did not endorse the process put in place by Tennis Australia or the Victorian government to grant exemptions.

Lastly, the approval of a visa is down entirely to the home or Prime Minister. And none of these two were too keen to bend the rules.

What next for the tennis star?

As things stand, the Serb is in a hotel at Melbourne. And he has also challenged the decision in a federal court, so this is not yet over by a long shot.

But it is hard to see how he can play in the Grand Slam now. The start date for the Slam is 11 days from now. This would mean Djokovic would have to win the appeal in court in order to stand any chance of playing.

Even so, this entire episode would have severely disrupted his preparations for the event. Not to mention the toll it will have taken on him mentally.

Still, it is hard to feel too much sympathy for the player – especially given his history in terms of acting out during the pandemic.

Novak Djokovic – a history of inappropriate COVID behaviour

During the first wave of COVID-19 infections the world over, Djokovic made the news for all the wrong reasons. His faith in “natural healing” and alternate medicine led to widespread ridicule.

But the worst was yet to come. The 2020 Balkan Open, organised by Djokovic himself, saw him and a number of players test positive for the virus. The event was called off, but not after all involved got criticised.

Especially since, at the peak of the first wave, full crowds were brought in to see the matches.

Then there is his stance on vaccines. He has clearly stated that he is not a fan of vaccines, and also expressed doubt over playing the Australian Open if it meant disclosing his vaccination status.

“Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” he had said.

“But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision. I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know.”

However, it had been made clear by all and sundry that no exceptions on vaccination would be made unless necessary. Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, himself said as much.

“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever,” he had said.

And so it proved.

Sportslumo Desk

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