Novak Djokovic, the top tennis player in the world, is expected to spend his weekend in an immigration detention hotel in Australia after his exemption to the country’s strict COVID-19 vaccine rules was denied. The video above shows the announcement from Australia’s health minister, as well as reaction from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Djokovic’s mother. Djokovic, who was traveling to compete in the Australian Open later this month, has a court hearing next Monday to determine whether he will get to compete or be deported.
“Since yesterday, last 24 hours, they are keeping him as a prisoner. It’s just not fair. It’s not human,” Djokovic’s mother Dijana said Thursday. The president of Serbia, Djokovic’s homeland, called on Australian officials “to let Novak Djokovic move out from this horrific hotel into a rented home where he can prepare for the tournament while he is awaiting a court decision” on his vaccine exemption.
The controversy began when officials in the state of Victoria granted Djokovic, who has been a vocal skeptic of COVID vaccines, the vaccine exemption. This exemption caused an uproar and triggered allegations of special treatment.
“There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all, none whatsoever,” Prime Minister Morrison said Wednesday. “He’ll be treated no different to anyone else. And my view is he should be treated no different to anyone else.”
Later that day, the Australian Border Force (ABF) rejected his exemption as invalid after looking at “the integrity and the evidence behind it.” Djokovic was then barred from entering the country.
“The ABF can confirm that Mr. Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia and visa has been subsequently cancelled,” Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said Thursday. “Yes, it is tough but it is fair and it’s equitable and it’s one rule for all under this Australian government.”
Serbian President Aleksander Vucic lambasted the ABF decision, calling it “political persecution.”
“I’m afraid that this kind of political ranting against Novak Djokovic will continue,” Vucic said. “They want to prove something else. When you can’t beat someone then you do these kind of things.”
This isn’t the first time an unvaccinated athlete has made headlines. Kyrie Irving, Aaron Rodgers and Antonio Brown have all faced their own controversies pertaining to COVID-19 vaccination.
Greg Hunt, Australian Health Minister: “The visa for Novak Djokovic has been cancelled. Obviously, that follows a review of the exemption which was provided through the Victorian government process. They were looking at the integrity and the evidence behind it. The advice I have and if I can just quote it for you, ‘the ABF (Australian Border Force) can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia and visa has been subsequently cancelled.’ So, it’s a matter for him whether he wishes to appeal that but if a visa is cancelled, somebody will have to leave the country.”
“I do know that right throughout, as a Commonwealth, as a national government, as an Australian government, the Prime Minister has been clear that Australians have had to do it tough and an Australian in many different states and territories has to show their vaccination record, in some cases to enter premises and cafes and other things and it is not unreasonable to have exactly the same requirements of all who enter this country, so fair and equitable for all, and the requirements were not able to be met, there was an exemption that had been provided through the Victorian government process. Clearly that did not pass the standards of proof that were required by the Australian Border Force. Yes, it is tough but it is fair and it’s equitable and it’s one rule for all under this Australian government.”
Scott Morrison, Australian Prime Minister: “Now, finally, on the issue of Mr (Novak) Djokovic, rules are rules and there are no special cases. Rules are rules. It’s what I said yesterday. That’s the policy of the government and has been our government’s strong border protection policies and particularly in relation to the pandemic that has ensured that Australia has one of the lowest death rates from COVID anywhere in the world. We were one of the first countries to move on shutting our borders. We were criticised at the time, but it was the right decision and we have maintained those important border controls over the entire period of the pandemic. We have tightened them even further on occasion. Again, we were criticised for doing that, but it was the right decision and we will continue to make the right decisions when it comes to securing Australia’s borders in relation to this pandemic. Now, our government has strong form when it comes to securing our borders. I don’t think anybody doubts that, and I, and they know that I, as prime minister, treasurer and particularly as minister of immigration and border protection, have a very strong view on this. And I want to thank the Australian Border Force officers for doing their job: implementing the government’s policy.”
“The ABF (Australian Border Force) has done their job. Entry with a visa requires double vaccination or a medical exemption. I’m advised that such an exemption was not in place and as a result, he is subject to the same rule as anyone else. I also want to stress that ultimately this is the responsibility of the traveller. It is for the traveller to be able to assert and back up their ability to come into the country consistent with our laws. So I’ll take advice from many places. No advice was provided by the Commonwealth government, I underscore, but they will take advice. But it’s up to them at the end of the day and if they don’t comply with the rules, then the Australian Border Force will do their job and they have done their job. This is nothing about any one individual. It is simply a matter of following the rules and so those processes will take their course over the next few hours and that event will play out as it, as it should.”
Reporter: “When was the last time you spoke to Novak and what did he tell you? And how do you feel as a mother?”
Dijana Djokovic, mother of tennis star Novak Djokovic: “I spoke today with him couple of hours ago. He was like good, we didn’t speak a lot, but we spoke a few minutes and he was trying to sleep, but he couldn’t. As a mother, what can I say? If you are a mother, you can just imagine how you, how can I feel? I feel terrible. Since yesterday, last 24 hours, they are keeping him as a prisoner. It’s just not fair. It’s not human. So I just hope that he will be strong as we are trying also to be very strong to give him some energy to keep on going. I hope that he will win.”
“Terrible, terrible accommodation. It’s just some small immigration hotel, as we can, if it’s hotel at all, with some bugs, it’s so dirty and the food is so terrible. So what can I say? They don’t… they don’t want to give him any chance to move on to some better hotel or house that he already rented. But we hope we will manage somehow.”