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Hopes of Grand Slam record crumble as Australia cancels second Djokovic visa

By David Coffey with RFI
Europe Kena Betancur AFP/Archives
JAN 14, 2022 LISTEN
Kena Betancur AFP/Archives

Australia has cancelled Novak Djokovic's visa for a second time, saying the unvaccinated tennis champion could pose a health risk. The move effectively ends the world number one's bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

On Friday Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his discretionary powers to cancel Djokovic's second visa, after a court quashed an earlier revocation and released him from detention on Monday.

It remains unclear if he will be returned to detention ahead of deportation.

In a statement Hawke said: "Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so."

Under the law, Djokovic will not be able to secure a visa to enter Australia for three years, except in "compelling circumstances that affect Australia's interest".

The decision to cancel his latest visa over Covid entry regulations raises the prospect of a new round of court battles by the Serbian tennis star's legal team to allow him stay in Melbourne and play in the tournament, which starts on Monday.

Djokovic's team has reportedly confirmed that he is considering the decision and weighing his options.

The 'Novax' polemic

The visa controversy has taken on an international dimension that goes beyond tennis, having intensified a global debate over the rights of the unvaccinated

The spat has become a tricky political issue for Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he campaigns for an election that is due by May.

While Morrison's government won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not escaped criticism over the botched handling of Djokovic's visa.

Morrison said in a statement: "Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected."

Anger simmers

As the Australian Open defending champion, Djokovic was included in the draw as top seed and was due to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic for his opening match next week.

Since being released from immigration detention on 10 January, he has been practicing with his entourage on an empty court at Melbourne Park.

The vaccine sceptic fuelled widespread anger in Australia when he announced last week he was heading to Melbourne with a medical exemption to requirements for visitors to be inoculated against Covid.

On arrival, Australian Border Force decided his exemption was invalid and put him in a detention hotel alongside asylum seekers.

Hawke said he had carefully considered information from Djokovic and the Australian authorities, adding the government was "firmly committed to protecting Australia's borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic".

Australia has endured some of the world's longest lockdowns, has a 90 percent vaccination rate among adults, and has seen a runaway Omicron outbreak spike at nearly a million cases over the last two weeks.

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