We take a look at how the drama, which has reverberated around the world, has unfolded in the Novak Djokovic visa issue.
The Australian government on Friday revoked tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time, just three days before the Australian Open begins.
Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal the cancellation in the Federal Circuit and Family Court, as they successfully did the first time.
Melbourne-based immigration lawyer Kian Bone said that Djokovic’s lawyers face an “extremely difficult” task to get court orders over the weekend to allow their client to play next week.
His exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to compete was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, which apparently allowed him to receive a visa to travel.
Here is a look at the timeline of events involving Djokovic’s trip to Australia:
As the coronavirus pandemic rages, Djokovic issues a statement, saying, “Personally I am opposed to the vaccination against COVID-19 in order to be able to travel. But if it becomes compulsory, I will have to make a decision whether to do it, or not.”
With the professional tennis tours on hiatus because of the pandemic, Djokovic organises a series of exhibition matches in Serbia and Croatia with no rules requiring social distancing or masking. The Adria Tour is called off after some players get COVID-19; Djokovic and his wife, Jelena, test positive.
19 November, 2021
Confirming an edict made by the Victorian state government in late October, tournament director Craig Tiley says everyone at the 2022 Australian Open must be vaccinated for COVID-19. Djokovic’s vaccine status is unknown at the time.
8 December, 2021
Victoria state Deputy Premier James Merlino says medical exemptions for the vaccine policy would not be “a loophole for privileged tennis players” and would only be possible in “exceptional circumstances, if you have an acute medical condition.”
14 December, 2021
Djokovic attends a professional basketball game in Belgrade and is photographed hugging several players from both teams, including some who later tested positive.
16 December, 2021
Djokovic tests positive for COVID-19 in Serbia, although that is not public knowledge until revealed by court documents in January. He later says he did not know the result until 17 December.
17 December, 2021
Djokovic attends an event in Belgrade honouring youth tennis players. Parents post photos on social media showing Djokovic and the young players without masks. Djokovic later says he was asymptomatic, took an antigen test before the event that showed he was negative, and only received the positive PCR result after the event.
18 December, 2021
Knowing he tested positive, Djokovic does an interview and photo shoot with the French newspaper L’Equipe. He acknowledges weeks later: “On reflection, this was an error of judgement.”
22 December, 2021
According to court documents, Djokovic tests negative for COVID-19 in Serbia.
29 December, 2021
Djokovic withdraws from Serbia’s team for the ATP Cup, days before the competition is due to begin in Sydney. No reason is given.
1 January, 2022
Tiley is asked in a TV interview about Djokovic’s status for the Australian Open and responds: “There’s quite a bit to play out and I think it will play out in the coming days.”
Djokovic says he is heading to the Australian Open to defend his title after being granted a medical exemption to play.
All participants at the Australian Open, which starts on 17 January, need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a medical exemption, assessed by an independent panel of experts.
The Serb has repeatedly refused to confirm if he has been inoculated, with his participation at the opening Grand Slam of the year at Melbourne Park the subject of intense speculation for months.
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“I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!” the nine-time Australian Open winner says on Instagram.
Australian Open tournament chief Craig Tiley says 26 players or their support staff from the 3,000 or so travelling had asked for an exemption, but only a few were successful.
“There’s been no special favour. There’s been no special opportunity granted to Novak,” said Tiley.
Stephen Parnis, a former Australian Medical Association vice-president, said it sent an “appalling message” to people trying to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he’s refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in,” Parnis said on Twitter.
Late Wednesday, Djokovic lands at Melbourne airport.
Australia says it has cancelled the entry visa of Djokovic on his arrival in Melbourne.
“Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled,” the Australian Border Force said in a statement.
“Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia,” it added.
Djokovic is moved to an immigration detention centre while his lawyers lodge an appeal.
The incident sparks an immediate spat. Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic says he spoke with Djokovic over the phone and told him that “the whole of Serbia is with him and that our authorities are undertaking all measures in order that maltreatment of the world’s best tennis player ends as soon as possible”.
The player’s father, Srdjan said his son was “held captive for five hours”.
“Jesus was crucified and endured many things but is still alive among us,” he said on Orthodox Christmas Eve. “Novak is also crucified… the best sportsman and man in the world. He will endure.”
However, Djokovic’s long-time rival and fellow 20-time major winner Rafael Nadal says: “He made his own decisions and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences.”
Djokovic thanks fans for their support. “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated,” he wrote on Instagram.
Czech doubles player Renata Voracova, who also entered on an exemption as she had recently recovered from Covid, ends up in the same detention facility as Djokovic.
The 38-year-old tells Czech media the centre “is like a prison” with guards on every floor.
Djokovic was given a Covid-19 vaccine exemption because he tested positive for the virus on 16 December, his lawyers say in a 32-page court filing.
However, it is then claimed that Djokovic was at a young players event in Belgrade the following day, without a mask.
The Belgrade tennis federation, in a Facebook post after the 17 December ceremony, reported that Djokovic had handed over cups and awards to best young players in 2021.
His lawyers also claim that he was held at Melbourne airport on his arrival for eight hours, mostly incommunicado.
Australia’s government in court filings says Djokovic is not vaccinated against Covid-19 and his legal battle to stay in the country should be dismissed.
Government lawyers reject a separate argument that Djokovic was treated unfairly because he was pressured into letting a border agent take a decision on his visa without giving him extra time to rest and consult his lawyers.
Judge Anthony Kelly orders Monday’s hearing to go ahead, refusing a government request to adjourn until Wednesday.
Djokovic’s appeal hearing opens, but is repeatedly delayed by glitches as the court’s online system crashes due to a surge of worldwide interest.
After several delays and arguments made by Djokovic’s legal team and Canberra’s lawyers the world number one wins a stunning victory over the Australia government.
The judge orders that he “be released immediately and forthwith from immigration detention”.
The presiding judge overturns the cancellation of the unvaccinated star’s visa, ending his detention.
The government concedes that the way it conducted the airport interview was “unreasonable” because the player was not given the chance to reply fully before his visa was torn up.
Had Djokovic been given until 8:30 am to respond as first promised, the judge says, “he could have consulted others and made submissions to the delegate about why his visa should not be cancelled.”
A government lawyer says Immigration Minister Alex Hawke may decide to use his “personal power of cancellation” to intervene in the case despite the legal victory.
With his status still uncertain, Djokovic is installed as the No. 1 seed for the men’s field at the Australian Open. The tournament strictly follows the current rankings in determining seedings and Djokovic is ranked No. 1; he has spent more weeks atop the ATP than any other man in the history of the men’s professional tour’s computerised rankings.
Djokovic’s most extensive public comments on the matter come via a post on social media that is put up by someone while he is practicing at the Australian Open’s main stadium. He acknowledges a mistake on his travel declaration for Australia, which failed to indicate that he had been in multiple countries over the prior two weeks. Djokovic blames his agent for checking the wrong box on the form, calling it “a human error and certainly not deliberate.” He also clarifies the timing of his positive COVID-19 test from December and subsequent whereabouts.
Djokovic is included in the Australian Open draw. He is slated to play fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the opening round next week.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke says he used his ministerial discretion to revoke Djokovic’s visa on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”
Play is scheduled to begin at Melbourne Park. The men’s singles final is scheduled for 30 January.
(with inputs from AFP and AP)