Novak Djokovic Is Refused Entry Into Australia Over Vaccine Exemption

Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player, traveled all day Wednesday from Dubai to Australia, a journey that was supposed to begin his defense of the Australian Open singles championship.

On Thursday, he was told he would need to leave the country, following a 10-hour standoff with government officials at a Melbourne airport, where he was held in a room overnight over the validity of his visa and questions about the evidence supporting a medical exemption from a coronavirus vaccine. The exemption was supposed to allow Djokovic, a 20-time Grand Slam tournament champion and one of the biggest stars in sports, to compete in the Australian Open even though he has not been vaccinated.

Djokovic did not immediately leave the country, and his team filed a legal challenge to the ruling on Thursday. A spokesman for the tennis star did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The chain of events represented a startling turnabout for Djokovic, who in a little more than 24 hours went from receiving special, last-minute permission to play in the Open, to boarding an intercontinental flight, to essentially being told by the prime minister of Australia that he was not welcome in the country.

Tiley said Wednesday in a television interview that 26 players had applied for an exemption and “a handful” had been granted. According to Tiley, 99 percent of the more than 3,000 people coming to Australia for the tournament were vaccinated. The handful who were granted an exemption either had a medical condition or had Covid-19 during the past six months, though Australian health officials said late last year that a recent infection would not necessarily be enough to gain entry.

Tennis Australia said Djokovic’s exemption was granted in part by an independent panel appointed by the Victoria Department of Health.

Djokovic landed at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday. By then, he had become the central figure in a firestorm over how he had received permission to enter Australia, which is experiencing a startling rise in coronavirus cases.

“We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that,” Morrison added. “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.”

Also Wednesday, Jaala Pulford, the acting sports minister for the state of Victoria, which contains Melbourne, site of the Open, said the state government would not support Djokovic’s application for a visa. Pulford wrote on Twitter that “visa approvals are a matter for the federal government.”

Others criticized the Australian government for bungling the process and mistreating the world’s top-ranked player.

Tennys Sandgren, the American professional player who is also against a vaccination mandate, stated on Twitter that “Australia doesn’t deserve to host a Grand Slam.”

Djokovic, who is tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the most Grand Slam men’s singles titles with 20, would have been a favorite to win his 21st in Melbourne, where he has prevailed nine times. Melbourne has a small but energetic community of Serbian expatriates, who attend all of Djokovic’s matches at Rod Laver Arena, the Open’s main court, and provide him with rare enthusiastic support away from his homeland, despite his stature as arguably the greatest player ever.

While the men’s and women’s professional tours do not require a vaccination, tennis officials are at the mercy of the local, state and national governments in power where tournaments are held. It is possible that Djokovic could face these circumstances at other competitions if countries require a vaccine for entry or a local government requires one for work.

The French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, which take place in late spring and summer, have yet to announce whether a vaccine will be required.

Andrew Das, Isabella Kwai, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Damien Cave contributed reporting.

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