So Is Novak Djokovic Allowed to Play in the Australian Open or What?

As outrage over his surprising medical exemption simmers, an apparent via snafu has the world no. 1 held up at the border

Novak Djokovic's visa to enter Australia was rejected.
The Serbian star is somewhere in the bowels of Tullamarine Airport.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Update: They weren’t bluffing. The Australian government officially declined Novak Djokovic’s visa this afternoon and will likely send the world number one on a plane back to Europe tomorrow evening. After eight hours of questioning, the Australian Border Force determined that Djokovic did not have adequate evidence to enter the country.

For the unvaccinated Djokovic, his admission to the Australian Open was always contingent on securing a medical exemption from Tennis Australia. He managed that just fine, much to the dismay of pandemic-weary Australians. But government officials pulled rank on tennis officials today, demanding “adequate documentation to prove the reason for his exemption.” It’s believed that Djokovic’s medical exemption was a COVID-19 infection from the past six months. (Tennis Australia actually begged him to reveal this throughout the day.) Based on his dismissal, though, either that was nonsense all along, he couldn’t prove it while sitting in an airport detention center, or the Australian government really is out to get him (a point that his father, the president of Serbia and legions of fans are now alleging online).

Still, Australian Open won’t be without controversy — a number of medically exempt players remain, “most” of them citing a COVID-19 infection from the past six months as the primary reason. Plus, Djokovic was the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament. He’s currently quarantining in a Melbourne hotel and apparently plotting to sue Australia … which should definitely work.

Novak Djokovic posted a celebratory Instagram and hopped on his 20-hour flight. That was more than enough time for Australia to work itself into a frenzy.

News that the world’s top-ranked men’s tennis player had been granted a mysterious medical exemption to compete in the Australian Open despite his putative unvaccinated status was met with outrage yesterday from an exhausted nation. Australians have accepted some of the strictest border policies in the world over the last two years, estranging ex-patriots, separating loved ones and all but eliminating any form of international leisure travel.

The country has taken vaccination extremely seriously, as well — over the course of last year, its population reached a 90% vaccination status for eligible citizens over the age of 12. It’s easy to understand, then, why news that Djokovic (who not only refuses the shot, but has encouraged others to question its efficacy) is less than welcome at Melbourne Park in a couple weeks.

An ESPN writer who covers tennis and world football in Australia, tweeted: “Whoever knocks Djokovic out of the #AusOpen may never need to buy a beer in Australia ever again.” Local residents spoke through masks to BBC News, calling the situation “a disgrace.” More officially, Prime Minister Scott Morrison sounded off in a press conference this morning, insisting, “There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic. None whatsoever.”

Morrison continued: “[Djokovic] could be on the next plane home,” if he can’t present evidence that he has a legitimate medical exemption. “If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else.”

Morrison may very well get his way. As it stands right now, Djokovic has not entered the country. The Serbian is apparently somewhere in the bowels of Tullamarine Airport, trying to resolve a visa snafu. Information is limited at the moment, but it appears that when Djokovic’s team filled out his visa application, they didn’t request the visa “that permits medical exemptions for being unvaccinated.”

That mistake — if that’s actually what happened — seems to have pitted the powers of governmental border control against both Djokovic and Tennis Australia, which initially stamped the athlete’s medical exemption status following a supposedly rigorous review from both the Victorian Department of Health and the Australian Immunisation Register.

Recent tweets, especially from state government Minister Jaala Pulford, seem to suggest that it doesn’t really matter what conclusion various medical teams reached. She wrote this morning: “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 are a matter for doctors.”

If that’s the case, the Australian government has the final trump card. After all, Tennis Australia only cleared Djokovic to enter a tournament, not enter the country hosting the tournament. Governmental officials can do their due diligence (they’re reportedly quizzing him today), and if he a reasonable medical exemption, whatever that may be, perhaps he’ll be allowed in. Otherwise, for the first time in four years, another player will be hoisting the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in a few weeks.

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