Novak Djokovic’s lawyers filed court papers on Saturday in his appeal against deportation from Australia that show the tennis star tested positive for COVID-19 last month and has recovered, reasons he used to apply for a medical exemption from the country’s strict vaccination rules.
No. 1 ranked Djokovic was denied entry at Melbourne airport late Wednesday after border officials canceled his visa for failing to meet entry requirements for a full vaccination of all non-citizens against COVID-19.
Djokovic obtained a medical exemption with the support of the Victoria state government and the organizers of the Australian Open on January 1, based on information he provided to two independent medical committees, and was approved for an electronic visa.
But it has since emerged that Victoria’s medical exemption, which has allowed people who have tested positive for coronavirus within the past six months, has been deemed invalid by federal border authorities.
Djokovic has been booked into an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne, as he prepares to file a legal challenge against the visa revocation in Federal Circuit Court on Monday.
The Australian Open starts on January 17th. Djokovic is the defending champion and has won the men’s singles title at the Australian Open nine times. He has 20 Grand Slam singles titles, a men’s record that he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Both the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Associated Press reported details of the documents late on Saturday. It showed that Djokovic received a letter from Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer on December 30 last year “on record that he was granted a ‘medical exemption from the COVID vaccine’ on the basis that he had recently recovered from COVID.”
The exemption certificate said the date of the 34-year-old Serb’s first positive test was December 16, 2021, “and that he had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms in the past 72 hours.”
Djokovic attended the December 17 event in Belgrade to honor young tennis players. Local media covered the event, with parents posting pictures on social media showing Djokovic and the children not wearing masks. It is not clear if Djokovic was aware of his test results at the time.
On December 14, Djokovic had attended a Euroleague basketball match between Red Star and Barcelona in a crowded sports hall in Belgrade. He was photographed embracing several players from both teams, including some who later tested positive.
On Saturday, the court said Djokovic had received confirmation from Australia’s Department of Home Affairs that his travel permit had been assessed and that his responses indicated he had met the requirements to arrive in Australia without quarantine.
So who is at fault? Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “rules are rules” and that arriving passengers are responsible for meeting border regulations.
Tennis Australia and the state government of Victoria, where the Australian Open is being held, blame confusion over the exact definitions of the reasons for the medical exemptions.
Tennis Australia, which runs the tournament and organizes the logistics of more than 2,000 incoming players, staff and officials, reportedly gave players incorrect explanations about the acceptable grounds for the exemption. This included the interpretation that a MERS infection within the previous six months would qualify.
The federal government disagreed.
The Victoria state government has mandated that all players, staff, fans and officials are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the tournament.
The state, which agreed to Djokovic’s medical waivers, said those waivers were for access to Melbourne Park, not the border.
Australian Open organizers have not commented publicly since Wednesday, except to inform Australian newspapers that no players have been misled about vaccination requirements.
Tournament director Craig Tiley continued to work in the background with Djokovic.
Tilley’s video message to the Australian Open staff about “tough tournament times in the public arena” was published in News Corp’s newspapers on Saturday.
“There was a circumstance involving two players, Novak in particular… We are the number one player,” said Tilley in the video. We are working closely with Novak and his team, and others and their team, who are in this situation.”
Djokovic, 34, was one of two players who were detained in a Melbourne hotel that is also home to refugees and asylum seekers. A third person, reportedly responsible, left the country voluntarily following Border Force investigations.
The other player was the 38-year-old, doubles player Renata Vorashova, who had already been in Australia for a week before an investigation by border officials. She told media from the Czech Republic that she was confined to a room and there was a guard in the corridor.
Djokovic reached out to the world for the first time in three days on Friday night, posting on social media in celebration of Orthodox Christmas and thanking his supporters. There were large-scale rallies in Belgrade, and small groups of supporters gathered daily outside his detention hotel.
Djokovic posted on Instagram: “Thank you to people around the world for your continued support.” “I can feel it and it is very much appreciated.”
Djokovic, after months of speculation that he will miss the tournament due to his stance on vaccination, announced on Tuesday via social media that he had been granted a medical exemption from participating in the tournament.
Prime Minister Morrison said that may have caught the attention of border officials.
Tiley said in his video to the Australian Open staff that he could not speak publicly due to the ongoing legal issue but that he has defended his organization.
“There is a lot of finger pointing and a lot of blame being done,” he said in the video, “but I can assure you that our team did an incredible job and did everything they could according to all the instructions that were provided.”
If he fails to cancel his visa and is deported, Djokovic could be banned from entering the country for up to three years.
In an email response to the Associated Press about what would happen if Djokovic loses his legal battle, the Australian Border Force said: “A person whose visa has been revoked may be subject to a three-year exclusion period that prevents him from being granted a further temporary visa.”
“The exclusion period will be considered as part of any new visa application and may be waived in certain circumstances, noting that each case is evaluated on its own merits.”
Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia contributed to this report.