World Number 1 Novak Djokovic’s entry into Australia on a vaccine exemption for this month’s Grand Slam on Wednesday was delayed due to visa issues.
The 20-time grand slam winner arrived at Melbourne Airport on Wednesday evening local time, where authorities noticed a separate issue with his visa. A member of his team had applied for a sub-class of visa which does not allow medical exemptions for being unvaccinated.
The country’s border force had sought clarification from the Victorian state government about his application but Acting Sports Minister Jaala Pulford confirmed that his government would not support his visa application to compete in the Australian Open.
“The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia. We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam,” Pulford said in a tweet.
“We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors,” she added.
The star player was reportedly quizzed in a room in Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport. His current whereabouts and visa status remain unclear.
Earlier in the day, Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Djokovic will be sent back home if he can’t provide ‘sufficient’ evidence to support his exemption from COVID-19 vaccination.
“My view is that any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements. Now Novak Djokovic, when he arrives in Australia, he has to, if he’s not vaccinated, must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully-vaccinated travellers,” Morrison told a media conference on Wednesday.
“So we await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that. If that evidence is insufficient, then he will be treated no different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever,” he added.
Meanwhile, the organisers said that the defending champion has not been given special treatment, but the decision sparked sharp criticism in Australia, where more than 90 per cent of people over 16 have had two vaccine doses against Covid-19, but some people still cannot travel interstate or globally because of current measures.
The country is seeing tens of thousands of Covid-19 cases for the first time after enduring some of the world’s strictest restrictions.
The Serbian, who has never spoken publicly about his vaccination status, had previously said that he was unsure whether he would compete at the January 17-30 tournament in Melbourne due to concerns over Australia’s quarantine rules.
With his record nine titles, Djokovic is the most successful player in the history of the Australian Open. He is also in a three-way tie on 20 career Grand Slams titles with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal in the all-time list.