An Australian court granted Serbian tennis champion Novak Djokovic his visa appeal, which he filed after the government rejected his entry papers over an allegedly inadmissible medical vaccine exemption.
The judge’s decision reverses the government’s cancellation of his visa, stalling deportation at least for now and allowing the star to compete in the 2022 Australian Open next week, where he will defend his long-standing title.
While Djokovic abstained from receiving the shot, which is required for admission into Australia, he argued that he had natural immunity from prior infection last month that qualified as a legitimate medical exemption to the vaccine. He claimed he tested positive, court documents show, but did not experience symptoms. Australian medical authorities ruled that a temporary pass of entry can be provided to applicants who had contracted the virus within six months.
Tennis Australia, which organizes the Australian Open tournament, and two medical panels had approved Djokovic’s medical exemption before he attempted to travel to the country, Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly said.
“The point I’m somewhat agitated about is what more could this man have done?” Kelly asked Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood.
When his visa was denied by the Australian Border Force last week, the athlete was detained at an immigration hotel used to house refugees and asylum seekers.
“The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements,” a statement from the agency read. “Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa canceled will be detained and removed from Australia.”
While Djokovic should be cleared to compete, attorneys for Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews suggested immigration personnel could reject his visa again if he won his appeal, as the prior infection exemption only applies to severe disease.
“There is no suggestion that the applicant (Djokovic) had ‘acute major medical illness’ in December” when he tested positive, the lawyers’ submission to court said.