Australia revokes visa for tennis star Novak Djokovic over vaccine exemption, PM Morrison says 'rules are rules'

He is currently being held in a hotel.

Matthias Ang | January 06, 2022, 04:18 PM

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Australia has revoked the visa of nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic upon his arrival in the city of Melbourne, over his vaccine status, the BBC reported.

The announcement was made by Australia's Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, on Twitter, who said "rules are rules" and that no one is above the country's border policies.

Held at the airport for several hours before being taken to a hotel that also holds asylum seekers

Prior to the announcement that his visa had been cancelled, Djokovic had been held at the airport for several hours.

Australian media Nine News reported that he has been taken to a hotel which also holds refugees and asylum seekers.

Australian border officials said that Djokovic had failed to provide "appropriate evidence" for his entry, resulting in the cancellation of his visa.

Djokovic's legal team has launched an appeal in court in response.

Why is Djokovic in this kerfuffle?

Organisers said Djokovic was granted medical exemption from the vaccine

CNN reported that players in the Australia Open had been told they would either have to be fully vaccinated or secure a medical exemption from an independent panel of experts in order to participate.

The Guardian further reported that this also means participants do not have to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon entering the Australian state of Victoria.

On January 4, Djokovic put up a post on Instagram in which he said that he was heading to Australia with an exemption.

In a separate statement on the same day, organisers for the Australia Open said that Djokovic's exemption had been granted after a "rigorous review process" that involved two separate independent panels of medical experts.

However, the decision sparked fury among many Australians, who had experienced strict restrictions in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.

There were also calls for a boycott of the Australia Open.

The BBC highlighted that Australia's government was previously criticised by citizens in 2021 for "double standards", with ordinary Australians overseas unable to return home during lockdown, while celebrities were able to fly into the country.

Australian PM makes reference to past statements by Djokovic

Nine News further reported that Morrison laid the blame for the airport detention and visa cancellation at Djokovic's feet, by referencing past statements that the tennis player had made.

"When you get people making public statements, of what they say they have, and what they are going to do, and what their claims are, they draw significant attention to themselves," he said.

According to Australian media ABC News, as far back as April 2020, even before a Covid-19 vaccine had been created, Djokovic expressed his opposition to vaccination, during a Facebook livestream with other athletes from Serbia.

He said, "Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn't want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel," he said. But, if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision."

Djokovic subsequently tested positive for the virus in June 2020, after participating in a tournament which he had organised himself in the Balkans region.

The tournament had been criticised for the lack of Covid-19 safety protocols.

In August 2021, during the U.S. Open, Djokovic also refused to answer questions about his vaccination status.

Serbia says Djokovic is victim of harassment

In the meantime, the incident has also taken on a geopolitical dimension, with Serbia's President, Aleksandar Vucic, stating that the "whole of Serbia" stood with Djokovic, Reuters reported.

Vucic also alleged that the tennis star was a victim of harassment, while Djokovic's father has claimed that his son was brought into an isolation room under police guard when he touched down at the airport.

Morrison has dismissed the allegations of harassment, while adding that he was aware of "representations" made by the Serbian embassy in Canberra.

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Top image via Novak Djokovic Facebook