Court rejects Djokovic’s appeal against Australia deportation

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Novak Djokovic lost his final bid to avoid deportation from Australia on Sunday, ending a sensational 11-day battle over his Covid-19 vaccination status and dashing his dream of a record 21st Grand Slam.

In a few dry words, the chief justice of Australia's Federal Court, James Allsop, Sunday dispensed with the unvaccinated tennis superstar's attempt to reinstate his cancelled visa.

"The orders of the court are that the amended application be dismissed with costs", Allsop said announcing the unanimous decision, on the eve of the first matches at the Australian Open.

The 34-year-old defending champion and first seed had been scheduled to play in the evening of the first day. If he had retained the title he would become the first men's tennis player in history to win 21 Grand Slams.

Instead, the openly anti-Covid vaccine tennis superstar is now set to be kept in detention pending a quick flight out of Australia.

Three Federal Court justices had listened to a half-day of feisty legal back-and-forth about Djokovic's alleged risk to public order in Australia.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Djokovic's stance may inspire anti-vaccine sentiment, leading some people to face the pandemic without vaccination and inspiring anti-vaxxer activists to gather in protests and rallies.

The player's high-powered legal team had painted Australia's effort to deport him as "irrational" and "unreasonable", but at times they faced pointed questions from the panel of three justices who will now decide the case.

His lawyer Nick Wood sought to systematically dismantle the government's central argument.

Despite the Serbian star being unvaccinated, Wood insisted his client had not courted anti-vaxxer support and was not associated with the movement. The government "doesn't know what Mr Djokovic's current views are", Wood insisted.

Djokovic has spent much of the last week in immigration detention, with his visa twice being revoked by the government over his refusal to get a Covid-19 vaccine before arrival -- a requirement for most visitors.

Government lawyer Stephen Lloyd said the fact Djokovic was not vaccinated two years into the pandemic and had repeatedly ignored safety measures -- including failing to isolate while Covid-19 positive -- was evidence enough of his anti-vaccine views.

"He has now become an icon for the anti-vaccination groups," Lloyd said. "Rightly or wrongly he is perceived to endorse an anti-vaccination view and his presence here is seen to contribute to that."

In a written submission the government also pointed out that Djokovic chose not to give evidence at the hearing. "He could set the record straight if it needed correcting. He has not -- that has important consequences."

Because of the format of the court, the justices' decision will be extremely difficult to appeal by either side. Besides immediate deportation, the Serbian star also faces a three-year ban from Australia.

Djokovic is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles each. Spanish great Nadal took a swipe at his rival on Saturday as players complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year.

"The Australian Open is much more important than any player," Nadal told reporters at Melbourne Park.

"The Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him."

(with AFP)

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