Novak Djokovic will not be defending his Australian Open crown after all. The Serbian, who arrived in Australia on Wednesday, saw his visa application rejected by the Victorian state government.
The Serbian tennis star had previously claimed to have received a medical exemption to play the season-opening Grand Slam. Tennis Australia – and indeed the federal government rules – mandated all involved would need to be double vaccinated.
However, Djokovic – whose vaccination status has not been revealed by the player himself – appeared to have got an exemption. Yet upon arrival, he was told the visa he attempted to enter Australia with did not allow for exemptions.
Thus, the world number 1 will now be flown out of the country on Thursday. And he is now part of a storm that has many moving parts – the Australian government, the COVID-19 pandemic and the whole debate around vaccines.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had warned the Serb would be “on the next plane home” if proof of his exemption was not proper.
“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.
It doesn’t help matters that, in terms of vaccines, Djokovic’s reputation precedes him. The same can arguably be said about him taking the disease seriously.
In June 2020, Djokovic caused furore by organising the Balkan Open with full crowds allowed. To then make things worse, him and a few other players wound up testing positive for the virus.
Yet nothing compares to his vaccine opposition. He has said in the past that he would not want the ATP Tour to make vaccines mandatory. He has also not revealed whether or not he got the jab.
The fact he needed an exemption makes it unlikely that he did indeed get vaccinated. The exemption is given only if valid medical reasons can be proved.
In Djokovic’s case, it seemed he was not able to show the proper proofs. Thus, his visa was duly cancelled and, as things stand, he won’t be a part of the Australian Open.
How things go on after this remains to be seen. The incident is as political as it is about the pandemic, but one suspects this is not the end of the matter at all.