World’s top tennis players fight against deportation amid questions about COVID-19 status.
An Australian court has begun hearing an appeal by tennis star Novak Djokovic, the world’s leading male player, over whether he has complied with COVID-19 exemption rules to allow him access to the country less than two weeks before the start of the Australian Open tennis tournament.
Djokovic was detained at the airport when he arrived Wednesday night after being denied entry.
Authorities said the player did not have sufficient evidence to qualify for the medical release of COVID-19 vaccination which he said he was given.
Australia has not yet fully opened its borders, and any non-resident foreigners are supposed to be fully vaccinated with limited exemptions. News of Djokovic’s alleged release has sparked outrage in a country struggling with an Omicron-driven coronavirus wave and where many families have been separated for years due to strict arrival restrictions.
Djokovic says he tested positive for COVID-19 in December, which qualifies him for the waiver.
The virtual trial would begin at 10:00 (23:00 GMT) after the judge denied a government request to adjourn the case for several days. Proceedings finally got underway at 10:30 (23:30 GMT) after technological issues.
Djokovic bids for a record 21st Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open, which starts on January 17 in Melbourne.
He has been detained at the Park Hotel, a so-called ‘alternative place of detention’, since his visa was revoked last week. The facility became notorious for housing people who are recognized as refugees but are still being held in custody because they arrived in the country by boat.
Djokovic’s lawyers allege he had the necessary permits to enter Australia, including an assessment by the Home Office that responses to his travel declaration form indicated that he met the conditions for quarantine-free arrival.
They noted that he had ticked the box on the official form of government and said that he could not be vaccinated for medical reasons and uploaded supporting documents provided by the Chief Medical Officer and Tennis Australia.
The government says the email could not be seen as an assurance “that his so-called ‘medical exemption’ would be accepted”, and his answers could be questioned and verified on arrival.
The government also challenged Djokovic’s claim for a medical exemption on the grounds that he had recently had COVID-19.
There is no suggestion that the applicant had “acute serious medical illness” in December 2021. All he said was that he tested positive for COVID-19. It is not the same, ”reads the application.