Australia rushes to defend Djokovic ban as legal battle looms By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A fan of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic gathers outside the Park Hotel, where the sports star is said to be held while in Australia, in Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 7, 2022. REUTERS/Lauren Elliott/File Photo

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Nominal Courtney Walsh and Byron Kay

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian authorities on Sunday rushed to file a legal defense over their decision to ban world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic for his COVID-19 vaccination, as the Serbian star was spending his fourth day in immigration detention.

Djokovic had been hoping to win his 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, starting next week, but instead of training, he was booked into a hotel used to accommodate asylum seekers. He is appealing the decision to cancel his visa after he was arrested upon arrival at Melbourne airport early Thursday.

Djokovic, an outspoken opponent of vaccination orders, has refused to disclose his vaccination status or why he is seeking medical exemption from Australian vaccine rules. He broke his silence on Saturday with a court challenge claiming he was granted an exemption because the virus contracted — and recovered — in December.

The Melbourne drama has rocked global tennis, raised tensions between Serbia and Australia and became a flashpoint for opponents of vaccine mandates around the world.

Australia said the Ministry of Health informed the host organization of the Australian Tennis Championships in November that the recent COVID-19 infection was not necessarily the basis for an exemption in the country, as it is elsewhere. Djokovic’s trial indicates that the Interior Ministry wrote to him this month to tell him he met the requirements to enter the country.

A court official told Reuters that the Interior Ministry, which is due to present its defense on Sunday, has requested that the first hearing in the case be extended from Monday to Wednesday. The request was rejected, according to a decision posted on the Federal Court’s website.

Djokovic’s lawyers will have up to two hours to present their case from 10:00 a.m. (03:00 GMT) on Monday, while the government department will have two hours to present its defense from 3:00 p.m. from the family.

An internal affairs spokesperson could not be reached for comment on his legal defense.

Spotlight on refugees

Health Secretary Greg Hunt, when asked about the outrage at a news conference on Sunday, declined to comment while in court, but noted that many of the tournament’s participants had their visas revoked.

Asked about this on Channel Nine TV, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said without referring directly to Djokovic that “there is a clear difference between visas and entry requirements” and “entry requirements. Entry … in addition to visa requirements.”

Czech player Renata Vorakova, who was held in the same detention hotel with Djokovic and whose visa was canceled after problems with her being exempted from the vaccine, has left the country without challenging her status, the Ministry of Czech Affairs said.

Djokovic’s stance drew an unexpected crowd to the modest Melbourne hotel, which, until this month, was notorious for media reports of asylum seekers claiming to have received food containing larvae.

Anti-vaccine protesters, pro-refugees and Djokovic fans gathered in front of the police-controlled building.

“The arrest of Novak Djokovic has put the spotlight on the Park Hotel prison, but for the 36 refugees who are being held there indefinitely, it is not a game,” said David Glanz, a spokesman for the defense group. in the current situation. A planned protest began.

“We are concerned that long after Djokovic has been back on the lucrative world tennis circuit, these men remain in custody – many of whom are in their ninth year in custody by the Australian Government.”

The Ministry of Interior was not immediately available to respond to the protesters’ demands.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the player was given gluten-free food, exercise kits and a SIM card to keep in touch with the outside world.

“It is a positive tone from the Australian side. Brnabic said that the Serbian government is ready to provide all necessary guarantees to allow Novak to enter Australia, and the Serbian president is also involved.”

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