Tennis champion Novak Djokovic left Australia Sunday on the eve of the Australian open following a court decision to deport him over his submission of what they deemed to be a dishonest vaccine medical exemption.
Three Australian Federal Court judges unanimously upheld a decision made Friday by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to cancel Djokovic’s visa on public-interest grounds because he is not vaccinated against Covid-19.
Djokovic, who is the world’s top-ranked male tennis player, will be unable to defend his title and make a bid for a 21st singles major title.
“I am extremely disappointed with the Court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the Minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” Djokovic said in a statement, according to ESPN.
“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he added.
The court decision came after Australian authorities rejected Djokovic’s visa for the second time on Friday. Hawke argued it would be improper to admit the player given that he may have reported false information on an immigration form about his purported natural immunity from a recent Covid infection.
Djokovic had said he tested positive for the virus in December but was asymptomatic, according to court documents. Though a temporary pass of entry can be awarded to applicants who have contracted Covid within six months, Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said that the exemption only applies to “acute major medical illness,” which Djokovic did not exhibit.
He argued that the wrongful travel declaration was a “human error” by an agent and just a miscommunication, and that he did not purposely do anything unethical.
The Australian Border Force first denied Djokovic’s visa last week, leaving the star detained at a housing facility for refugees and asylum seekers while his case was adjudicated.
Chief Justice James Allsop said the ruling was a matter of whether Hawke’s decision to cancel the visa was “irrational or legally unreasonable.” Hawke argued that the country’s “strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world.”
“Strong border protection policies are also fundamental to safeguarding Australia’s social cohesion, which continues to strengthen despite the pandemic,” he added.
On Sunday, the national federation that runs the tournament, Tennis Australia, said it respects the decision of the Federal Court. “We look forward to a competitive and exciting Australian Open 2022 and wish all players the best of luck,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said the hearing was “a farce with a lot of lies.”
“They think that they humiliated Djokovic with this ten-day harassment, and they actually humiliated themselves. If you said that the one who was not vaccinated has no right to enter, Novak would not come or would be vaccinated,” Vucic said.
Djokovic could appeal to the High Court, but would not receive a decision in time for him to compete in the Australian tournament, which begins Monday.