Border Force investigating other Australian Open players after Djokovic ban

Australian Border Force is investigating at least one unvaccinated tennis player and one official who have already been allowed into the country after world no. 1 Novak Djokovic was sent to immigration detention and had his visa cancelled.

Federal authorities have also not ruled out banning Djokovic from entering the country for three years, as the Serbian star’s father declared his son was being held in “Australian captivity” and had become the “the symbol and the leader of the free world”.

The Park Hotel in Melbourne’s Carlton neighbourhood, where Novak Djokovic is being held after having his visa cancelled. Credit:Chris Hopkins, Getty

Djokovic, who is being held at the immigration detention at the Park Hotel in Carlton, on Thursday launched a challenge in the Federal Circuit Court to Border Force’s decision, but he is facing a race against time with the Australian Open beginning on January 17.

The court in Melbourne heard his lawyers were yet to file documents supporting their case. Judge Anthony Kelly said he was prepared to sit late on Thursday to hear the arguments.

The tennis star tried to enter Australia on Wednesday night on the basis that he had contracted COVID-19 in the past six months and therefore had a valid exemption for being unvaccinated, but this was rejected by Border Force.

Tennis Australia has claimed that other Australian Open participants have been allowed into the country after contracting COVID in the past six months, using the same exemption that Djokovic applied for.

This prompted Border Force to launch investigations into the other player and official. Federal government sources said the two others may also fall foul of the rules, but said every case was different and they may have other valid medical reasons for not being vaccinated.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews on Thursday confirmed Border Force was now investigating the allegations and didn’t rule out more players being sent back home.

“I’m aware of those allegations, and I can assure you that the Australian Border Force is investigating that now,” Ms Andrews told 2GB. “ABF needs the opportunity to be able to conduct its investigation. But if the evidence is not there, then they will take the appropriate action.”

Three sources familiar with Djokovic’s paperwork on arrival, speaking anonymously to detail confidential documentation, said evidence to support the player’s exemption was “minimal” and was only supported by one doctor. They said it was far less substantive than the two other players and one official who entered the country with the same vaccine exemption.

The other player and the official had more than one doctor supporting their claims of prior COVID infection, while one source said most of Djokovic’s paperwork was on a Tennis Australia letterhead. When border officials asked him and the Victorian government to produce more documentation, none was produced.

“It was totally insufficient and he couldn’t produce anything new. What else were we meant to do in the situation?” one senior Commonwealth source said.

Tennis Australia officials were privately fuming about the federal government’s decision on Thursday. One source said the move appeared to be motivated by politics and a desire to target a high-profile vaccine sceptic to boost the government’s popularity. They said Djokovic’s Instagram post and subsequent media interest sparked the federal government’s motivation to take a hard line.

“I don’t know how the feds will [address the fact that] several tennis players are already in the country with the same exemption granted to Novak,” the source said. “This looks to us like the feds are responding to the media by letting some players in but not the world no. 1.”

The 20-time grand slam winner faces the prospect of being banned from Australia as a result of the visa bungle. Federal law dictates anyone whose visa is cancelled can face a ban on re-entering Australia of up to three years, though Border Force has discretion on when to apply these bans and it is unlikely to be slapped on a person who may have made unintentional errors.

The ban can be imposed if the person’s visa was cancelled because they were “considered to be a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community”.

Sources confirmed that the government had not ruled out imposing the ban on Djokovic, but cautioned this would depend on how the process plays out in court and Djokovic’s next moves.

Federal health authorities told Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley on two occasions in writing that people who were not vaccinated and had contracted COVID-19 in the past six months would not be granted quarantine-free travel to Australia.

“In relation to your specific questions, I can confirm that people who contracted COVID-19 within six months and seek to enter Australia from overseas, and have not received two doses of a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)-approved or TGA-recognised vaccine … are not considered fully vaccinated,” Health Minister Greg Hunt wrote to Mr Tiley on November 29.

Tennis Australia wrote to players after receiving that advice but did not warn them about the vaccine requirement.

Djokovic’s father Srdjan Djokovic told Serbian newspaper Telegraf that his son is “tonight in Australian captivity, but he has never been more free”.

“From this moment, Novak has become the symbol and the leader of the free world, the world of the poor and disadvantaged nations and peoples,” he said.

“Tonight they can imprison him, tomorrow they can chain him, but the truth is like water and it will always find its way. ”

Djokovic’s visa was approved in November as part of an automated process.

Former deputy secretary of the Department of Immigration, Abul Rizvi, on Thursday said immigration authorities should have asked Djokovic questions about his vaccination status, and any exemptions he might have been seeking, when he initially applied for a visa.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the visa approval process was separate from other requirements for entry at the border such as proving vaccination status.

“People try to run the border all the time, by the way,” Mr Morrison said.

“You know, people come with a visa but may not satisfy other requirements for entry, and people are put on planes and turned back all the time. Anybody who’s watched the Border Patrol shows will understand that.”

Most Viewed in Politics

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article