Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has faced a dramatic late night bureaucratic bungle after arriving in Melbourne to defend his Australian Open crown, leaving him trapped at the airport overnight in a guarded room after being grilled by border officials.
It is understood the type of visa his team applied for does not allow medical exemptions for the unvaccinated, and there are also believed to be issues with the exemption itself, leading to the star being grilled by border officials.
The world number one touched down on a Emirates flight from Dubai around 11.30pm Wednesday night AEST, just 24 hours after confirmation of his quest to become the greatest men’s player of all time.
As of 4.00am on Thursday, the Serbian star still hadn’t gotten through passport control, and had endured several hours of discussions with Border Force officials.
His father Srdjan confirmed to a Serbian radio station that the star was ‘isolated in a room’ at the airport with his support staff banned from entering and without access to a mobile phone, even claiming he was under ‘police guard’.
‘Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter,’ he told the B92 internet portal. ‘In front of the room are two policemen.’
Novak Djokovic was caught up in a late night visa bungle as he touched down in Melbourne late on Wednesday night
Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic (pictured with physiotherapist Ulises Badio) has taken to social media to give fans a small insight into the team’s predicament
The late night visa chaos has left his appearance at the Open in doubt, after it was alleged his team had submitted an application for a visa that doesn’t allow medical exemptions, fuelling speculation Djokovic’s title defence may be over less than two weeks out from the Grand Slam.
To add to the chaos, there are now doubts whether his exemption – believed to be related to a previous Covid infection in the past six months – is even valid under federal guidelines, which dictates who is allowed across Australia’s border.
Meanwhile, Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic has taken to social media to give fans a small insight into the team’s predicament.
The photo features himself and physiotherapist Ulises Badio kicking back on large armchairs with the caption: ‘Not the most usual trip Down Under’.
A Serbian fan has rushed to Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport with flag in hand to send support to the superstar player as he awaits his fate in an isolated room.
A Serbian fan has rushed to Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport with flag in hand to send support to the superstar player as he awaits his fate in an isolated room (pictured)
The photo also features His declaration to the world that he was on his way to Australia sparked an outpouring of anger on a day the nation recorded a record 64,770 new Covid cases, as tennis great Rod Laver called on Djokovic to ‘own up’ to the reason for his exemption or face hostility from spectators.
Federal Border Force officials learnt while Djokovic was in the air that he would be trying to enter the country on a visa that doesn’t permit medical exemptions for being unvaccinated, sources said.
As a result, they contacted the Victorian government late on Wednesday night to ask it to formally help facilitate his entry into the country – but this was rejected.
‘They may have to send him or put him in immigration detention,’ one source told Melbourne’s Herald Sun.
Acting sports minister Jaala Pulford confirmed the state government would not support the application.
‘The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia,’ Ms Pulford tweeted at 11.14pm.
Acting sports minister Jaala Pulford announced late Wednesday night that the Victorian government would not support the visa application submitted
‘We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.
‘We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions a matter for doctors.’
Djokovic will likely eventually be allowed into Melbourne as the saga continued into the early hours of Thursday morning, but his remaining in Australia or competing at the Open are unclear.
The Victorian government was asked to support his application because the state government works with Tennis Australia to run the Open, the event that his visa would allow him to work at.
The Federal Government therefore wanted Victoria to formally back his entry, something the state government quickly claimed is not in their jurisdiction.
Novak Djokovic has arrived in Australia to defend his Australian Open crown but must provide evidence to support his vaccination exemption – something that caused chaos overnight
It was revealed hours earlier the Acting Australian Border Force Commissioner was examining an ‘issue’ with Djokovic’s Australian Travel Declaration as Scott Morrison warned the tennis star will receive no special treatment.
‘If that evidence is insufficient, then he will be treated no different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home,’ Mr Morrison said.
Australian tennis great Rod Laver believes Djokovic owes everyone an explanation.
‘If he’s got a reason for (the exemption) then… we should know it,’ the 11-time grand slam winner told News Corp.
‘Yes, you’re a great player and you’ve performed and won so many tournaments, so, it can’t be physical. So what is the problem?’
If he doesn’t, Djokovic should expect hostility from fans every time he walks onto the court in a city which has spent than 260 days in lockdown since early 2020.
‘I think it might get ugly,’ Laver said.
‘I would think the Victorian people would be thinking ”yes I would love to see him play and compete but at the same time, there’s a right way and a wrong way’.’
Currently, everyone entering Australia – even its own citizens – must be fully-vaccinated against Covid or face two weeks in hotel quarantine.
‘My view is that any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,’ Mr Morrison said on Wednesday afternoon.
‘Now Novak Djokovic, when he arrives in Australia, he has to if he’s not vaccinated, must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully-vaccinated travellers.
Scott Morrison (pictured on Wednesday) insists Novak Djokovic will receive no special treatment upon arrival in Melbourne if he can’t provide evidence to support his exemption
‘So we await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that.
‘If that evidence is insufficient, then he will be treated no different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home.
‘There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.’
He added that any exemption given to Djokovic will still have to stack up upon arrival in Australia.
‘There are other cases — there are quite a number over the last couple of years — where people have had these exemptions and have the suitable proof to support their claim in those circumstances,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘So the circumstance is not unique. The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for the exemption.’
A short time earlier, Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews warned border officials could step in.
‘While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border,’ she said.
‘Since 15 December 2021 fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption, and enter eligible states and territories quarantine free.
‘If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travellers.
‘Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our strict border requirements.
‘No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment.
‘Quarantine requirements for international arrivals in Victoria, including for non-vaccinated individuals, are a matter for the Victorian government.’
A late night visa bungle has left Novak Djokovic’s entry into Melbourne in doubt (pictured with his wife)
The debate continued on The Project, where the panelists suggesting there was a lot more to the story.
Co-host Lisa Wilkinson didn’t mince her words as she slammed Djokovic.
‘The problem is, no-one cared, today. I think everyone knows someone who’s really ‘suffered through COVID, if not many, many, many people,’ Wilkinson said.
‘We know people who’ve lost loved ones, who weren’t there to say goodbye to them.
‘And in the end, people are just sick of superstars being given special treatment. And that’s the category that this looked to fall into.
‘And it probably didn’t help, Novak, that you were lacking a bit of grace in your announcement of the whole thing. It was all a bit, ‘Let’s go!’
They wondered whether Djokovic had a legitimate reason.
‘One of the reasons, as I understand it, that you can get an exemption under ATAGI rules is if you’ve had Covid within the last six months,’ co-host Hamish McDonald explained.
Peter Helliar added: ‘He did pull out of a tournament in Indianapolis not that long ago, I think.’
Djokovic has previously contracted Covid in June 2020 shortly after he hosted a number of players in an exhibition tournament in south-east Europe.
A day earlier, Novak Djokovic announced to the world he was on his way to Australia after being granted an exemption (pictured, the photo he used to accompany his social media announcement)
Former Australian tennis star Sam Groth, who’s currently recovering from Covid-19, described Djokovic’s ‘brazen’ exemption as a decision that ‘spits in the face of every Victorian and Australian’ in a strongly-worded column for News Corp.
‘Just look at the s*** storm he’s created. It’s disrespectful to everyone that has endured the hell of the last two years.
‘He was here last year lifting the trophy and paying tribute to what Victorians in particular had endured. He played in empty stadiums during the snap lockdown. His announcement on Tuesday was tone deaf. He should know better.’
Groth also accused Djokovic of hiding behind an exemption without explanation.
‘I still think Djokovic is one of the greatest ever but with greatness comes expectation and he fails every time. He is failing his peers and laughing in the face of Victorians,’ he wrote.
‘Maybe he will come and do a press conference and tell us what we want to know, but based on his track record, I’m not holding my breath.’
Djokovic, a Australian Open nine-time champion has refused to reveal his vaccination status, declaring it a private matter – and has previously voiced his displeasure against ‘forced’ jabs.
‘I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,’ he told fans in a live Facebook chat last April.
Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said the independent panel consisted of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice and all exemptions met conditions set out by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation as he came out in defence of the controversial decision.
‘It’s ultimately the decision of the medical experts an we follow that accordingly,’ Tiley said.
‘We completely understand and empathise with … people being upset about the fact that Novak has come in because of his statements over the past couple of years around vaccination.’
Novak Djokovic (with wife Jelena) will be sent on the first plane home if he can’t provide evidence to support his vaccination exemption, Scott Morrison has said
Tiley acknowledged that questions will be asked about the exemption and the only person who can answer them is Djokovic.
‘It’ll certainly be helpful if Novak was to explain the conditions in which he’s sought an exemption … but ultimately it’s up to him,’ he said.
He added it was up to Djokovic if he wished to discuss his condition with the public as well as why he received his exemption.
All players and spectators at the Australian Open, which begins on January 17, need to be vaccinated or secure an exemption like Djokovic, which is assessed by an independent panel of experts.
Djokovic will surpass Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the best men’s player in the sport’s history if he wins his tenth Australian Open title on January 30, taking his tally of Grand Slam titles to 21.
While many players weren’t willing to weigh in on the saga, there were some rivals who pledged support for Djokovic.
‘I know we’re big on vaccination in Australia (but) I think it should be the choice of the person whether they want to get the vaccination,’ Australian tennis star Jordan Thompson said.
‘I can see why people are upset but it’s a difficult one. Honestly, I don’t really give a s***.
‘I just think people should have their say on if they want to get vaccinated or not. I just worry about myself … It’s up to him whether he gets it or not.’
There are growing calls for Novak Djokovic (pictured in Adelaide while quarantining for the 2021 Australian Open) to explain his reasons for his vaccination exemption