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In Pursuit of a 21st Grand Slam, Djokovic Deported from Australia

Novak Djokovic, arguably one of the greatest tennis players of all time, was deported from Australia on January 17th after having his visa revoked for being unvaccinated against COVID-19. 

The ordeal began a week and a half prior when Djokovic arrived in Australia to prepare for the Australian Open tournament. Djokovic had won the previous three Australian Opens, nine in total, and is chasing an elusive 21st Grand Slam title. He currently sits at 20, tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the most all-time. 

When Djokovic initially arrived in Australia on January 6th, he had his visa cancelled and was subsequently detained by Australian authorities because he did not qualify for vaccine exemption under Australian laws. 

However, Djokovic was exempt from the Australian Open’s vaccination policy because he had tested positive for COVID-19 within the last six months. He and his lawyers said that he would have stayed home in Serbia had he been notified of the Australian government’s specific vaccination policies independent of the Australian Open. 

After the announcement of the initial detainment of Djokovic, his lawyers appealed the decision to a federal judge, requesting his immediate release. The federal judge agreed to his release, reinstated his visa, and allowed Djokovic to enter Australia. 

However, Australian law allows for the Immigration Minister to overrule this federal judge decision. A few hours after his release, the Minister revoked his visa for a second time.

In doing so, Djokovic’s representation had to file an appeal through a panel of three Federal Court judges. If the decision were to be unfavorable again, he would be allowed to appeal to the High Court. With the time that this process takes, Djokovic’s only outlet from the vaccine requirement was through the Federal Court panel, as an appeal to the High Court would have concluded well after the end of the Australian Open. 

After an appeal to the panel of Federal Court judges and days of court hearings and arguments, the panel's verdict revoked Djokovic’s visa and, without a third appeal from his legal team, resulted in his subsequent and immediate deportation from the country. 

This situation has been a leading political conversation around the world. Djokovic is being hailed as a talisman of the unvaccinated community, as some say he has been subjected to “authoritative and illegal government regulations that punish him for making a personal health decision.” 

While the Australian government has received backlash from conservatives around the world, the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister have remained steadfast in their reasons for this decision. 

Australia has been one of the world leaders of effective COVID-19 protective measures and regulations to safeguard their communities against the deadly disease. Australia boasts one of the highest vaccination rates in the world along with a low death rate, as they deemed it worthy to mandate vaccinations in order to protect their country. 

In addition to his vaccination status, the Immigration Minister also cited Djokovic’s “history of ignoring COVID safety measures,” saying that his presence in Australia may be a risk to health and “good order” of the Australian public and “may be counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others in Australia.” 

In November, Djokovic attended an interview and photoshoot in France while he was contagious with COVID-19. Djokovic took off his mask multiple times during the photoshoot, was not socially distancing, and failed to notify the journalists and others in attendance of his positive COVID test just a couple of days before the event. The people in attendance at this event first heard of this news from a French newspaper and not Djokovic himself. 

On January 17th, Djokovic left Australia and eventually made it back home to Serbia.

Rafael Nadal remains the only active player in the Australian Open with 20 Grand Slams, as Roger Federer is recovering from knee surgery. Nadal can break history with his 21st Grand Slam if he is able to win the Australian Open. The Open began first-round play on January 17th. 

Moving forward, Djokovic plans to compete in Dubai in the middle of February, before gearing up for the French Open in late May, which will be his next opportunity to win a Grand Slam. 

However, the French Association in charge of the event released a statement that their vaccination policies for entrance will be that of the government’s. As of now, France has a vaccine requirement for public gatherings such as the French Open. Therefore, Djokovic must hope for a decrease in COVID cases and relaxation of policies in France (or get vaccinated) to have any chance of competing in that tournament. 

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