Speed Reads

Drama Down Under

Novak Djokovic wins visa appeal in Australian court, will likely play for record in Australian Open

A judge in Melbourne, Australia, sided with Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic on Monday and ordered the government to release him from immigration detention and reinstate his visa to play in next week's Australian Open. The Australian government revoked Djokovic's visa when he arrived at the Melbourne airport on Wednesday, citing his lack of vaccination against COVID-19, and he has been held at a Melbourne hotel where asylum seekers are housed. 

After federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly ruled for Djokovic against Australia's Home Affairs Ministry, government lawyer Chris Tran told the judge that a separate Cabinet official, Citizenship, Migrant Services, and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alex Hawke, "will consider whether to exercise a personal power of cancelation" of Djokovic's visa. If Hawke decided to step in, Kelly noted, the No. 1 men's tennis player would be barred from Australia for three years, not just from the Australian Open.

If Djokovic is allowed to stay in Australia and wins his 10th Australian Open championship, he would also break a record for most men's Grand Slam singles titles — he currently has 20, along with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

The legal argument over Djokovic's entry into Australia is whether he had been given a legitimate medical exemption to the country's COVID-19 vaccination requirement. His lawyers argue that he merited an exemption because he was infected with the virus in December, but the government said there is no evidence Djokovic infection led to an "acute major medical illness," as required. 

Judge Kelly sided with Djokovic's lawyer in the argument that the tennis star checked all the boxes he could have reasonably been expected to before traveling to Melbourne. "The point I'm somewhat agitated about is what more could this man have done?" Kelly asked. He also seemed uncomfortable with the government's treatment of Djokovic.

"The high-profile case has captured international headlines" and "transformed the unvaccinated sports star — already a prominent skeptic of coronavirus vaccines — into a lightning rod for the global vaccination debate," The Washington Post reports. "For the past several days, the hotel where Djokovic was held became a magnet for an eclectic mix of protesters, including fellow Serbs, tennis fans, anti-vaccine activists, and immigration advocates hoping to use the spotlight to focus attention on the asylum seekers."