Novak Djokovic’s Visa Cancellation and Vaccine Controversy

Written by: Justin

Edited by: Jagat

Visual by: Mischka

On January 5, Novak Djokovic landed at Melbourne Airport expecting to quickly get settled and prepare to defend his title at the annual Australian Open. Instead, he was detained at border control due to an unexpected problem with his visa as he did not fulfill the double vaccination requirement implemented by the Australian government. 

Australia recently established a mandate that required every individual entering the country to be double vaccinated, which was an issue for the number one ranked tennis star as he had not  received either of his doses. To solve this, prior to flying, Djokovic acquired a medical exemption to take part in the tournament from Tennis Australia’s independent expert medical review panel, which was endorsed by an independent Victorian state government panel. This medical exemption was granted as he had recently recovered from Covid-19 about a month prior to the tournament. 

However, according to the Australian health minister, Greg Hunt, “The exemption provided [for Djokovic] did not pass the standards of proof that were required by the Australian border force. The requirements were not able to be met, yes it’s tough, but it’s fair and it’s one rule for all under this Australian government.”

Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia agreed: “Rules are rules, and there are no special cases… You have to have a double vaccination because that’s the country’s rule for entry into the country and that is assessed at the border. He provided information to the airline to allow his entry onto the plane, but that is not an assurance that he will be able to come through the Australia border.” He continued, “It wasn’t a problem with a visa, there are many visas granted, and if you have a visa and you’re double vaccinated, you’re welcome to come.”

This raises the bigger question, should athletes be forced to get vaccinated? Some leagues have implemented rules to threaten players to get vaccinated. For example, the NFL informed teams that if a COVID-19 outbreak happens among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will forfeit and be credited with a loss. Yet other athletes have found ways around the vaccine mandate such as Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who was allowed to only play in certain away games to avoid the New York vaccine mandate for athletes.

After 8 hours of being detained at the Melbourne Airport, the Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly ruled Djokovic could stay in Australia after he spent four days quarantining in a Melbourne hotel. His visa was temporarily reinstated, though Djokovic could still face deportation and a three-year ban from entering Australia if the government exercises a “personal power of cancellation.” Which happened a few days after, the Australian government canceled Djokovic’s visa once again. The tennis star challenged this verdict, but on January 16, judges rejected Djokovic’s challenge to the government’s decision to cancel his visa due to “health and good order” grounds. Djokovic was disappointed, but accepted this fair ruling. He is set to be deported from Australia and his hopes of defending his Australian Open title are over. 

In the end, the ongoing controversy surrounding Novak Djokovic and Australia’s vaccination rules puts a spotlight on the challenges that the governments and states face in maintaining their health and safety protocols. While still respecting an individual’s freedom of choice through vaccination as newer variants of covid come to light.