Novak Djokovic was preparing this Sunday to leave Australia after the justice rejected his appeal against his deportation, ordered by the government, which considered that the world number one tennis player represents a “health risk” for not having been vaccinated against covid -19.
The decision, made unanimously by all three judges on the court, definitively dashes the 34-year-old Serb’s hopes of winning his record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, which starts on Monday.
“I am very disappointed,” Djokovic said in a statement. “I respect the court’s decision and will cooperate with the relevant authorities regarding my departure from the country,” he added.
“Now I’m going to take some time to rest and recover,” said the player, whose career could be seriously affected after the ruling.
Djokovic was allowed to leave the detention center where he was held on Saturday and watched the four-hour hearing online from his lawyers’ offices in Melbourne.
In his findings in court on Saturday, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had argued that Djokovic’s presence in the country was “likely a health risk”.
He said it fueled “anti-vaccine sentiment” and could deter Australians from getting booster shots as the omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country.
– ‘Civil unrest’ –
The presence of the champion in Australia could even “provoke an increase in civil unrest,” the minister added.
While calling the risk of Djokovic himself infecting Australians “negligible,” the minister said his “disregard” for COVID-19 health rules set a bad example.
On Sunday, in court, “Djoko’s” lawyers described the detention and possible deportation of their client as “illogical”, “irrational” and “unreasonable”.
But they failed to convince the three judges of the Federal Court, who unanimously rejected the appeal, without the possibility of appeal.
Novak Djokovic was arrested upon arrival in Australia on January 5 and initially placed in administrative detention.
The player, who contracted covid-19 in December, expected an exemption to enter the country without being vaccinated, but the authorities did not accept this explanation.
The Australian government suffered a humiliating setback on January 10, when a judge blocked Djokovic’s deportation, reinstated his visa and ordered his immediate release.
But the Immigration Minister struck back on Friday and canceled his visa for a second time under his discretionary powers, citing “reasons of health and public order”.
In a statement published on Wednesday, the tennis player admitted to incorrectly filling out his declaration to enter Australia.
– ‘Incompetence’ –
The 86-time ATP champion, who was seen in Serbia and Spain in the two weeks before his arrival, claimed “human error”.
Australians have been enduring some of the world’s toughest restrictions against covid-19 for almost two years.
Furthermore, with the prospect of elections in May, the political context was very charged.
In recent days, pressure has mounted on Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom the Labor opposition has accused of “incompetence.”
The Australian government celebrated its legal victory on Sunday.
“Australia’s strong border protection policy has kept us safe during the pandemic,” Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said in a statement.
“Australians have made great sacrifices to get to this point and the Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting that position.”
Djokovic’s case is also closely watched in Serbia, where “Nole” is considered a national hero. On Friday, President Aleksandar Vucic accused Australia of “mistreatment” of him.