Djokovic not captive in Australia, minister says

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Novak Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia, a top official says, as the men’s world number one tennis player faces deportation over COVID vaccination rules.

The Serb star remains in immigration detention in Melbourne after being denied entry on Wednesday.

A court challenge is due on Monday, a week before the Australian Open begins. Czech player Renata Voracova has also had her Australian visa cancelled, local media reported on Friday.

Now more uncertainty surrounds the schedule of the tournament that Djokovic has won nine times. A 10th win would see him become the men’s most successful player, with 21 Grand Slams.

Djokovic, who has said he is opposed to vaccination, had been granted a medical exemption to play in the tournament for unspecified reasons, in a decision that infuriated many Australians. More than 90% of the country’s adult population are fully vaccinated, but they still face restrictions as cases of infection rise.

Djokovic’s exemption was given by two independent medical panels organised by Tennis Australia, the body that runs the event, and Victoria state.

But on Wednesday, Australian Border Force (ABF) officials said the 34-year-old player had “failed to provide appropriate evidence” at Melbourne Airport.

The federal government has criticised Tennis Australia for ignoring ABF advice about the requirements for entry. On Friday, Victoria said Tennis Australia had also failed to pass on this advice.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also being accused of politicising the issue. The prime minister himself is under pressure amid the surge of COVID-19 infections in the country, and a federal election is likely to be held in May. Mr Morrison has denied the visa cancellation was because of “any particular position in relation to Serbia”.

But Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has said Djokovic is a victim of “harassment”. As Serbs celebrated Orthodox Christmas on Friday, Serbia’s Patriarch Porfirije sent a message of support to Djokovic, saying that millions of Orthodox Serbs were praying for him.

It is not yet clear how long Djokovic will remain in the immigration detention hotel that has often been criticised by refugees for its poor conditions. Serbia has demanded Australia move him to a nicer hotel.

In an interview with Channel 9 on Friday, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said Djokovic “is free to leave at anytime that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that”.

Ms Andrews said there was intelligence to “indicate there are some individuals here now that have not met the entry requirements and we have to investigate that”.

However, she did not say how many other players were under investigation or who they were. (BBC Sport)

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