World No.1 Novak Djokovic landed in Melbourne at 11.30pm on Wednesday night but may not have been aware of the drama unfolding as he was in the air.
The Age reports that a visa bungle saw Djokovic’s entry into Australia denied by the Victorian Government.
In an update on Wednesday night, Victorian acting Sports Minister Jaala Pulford said the Federal Government had asked if they would support Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia.
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“We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam,” she tweeted.
“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.”
It is unclear at this stage whether Djokovic will be asked to return home or be granted entry.
The Age reported the federal Border Force reached out to the state government as Djokovic’s team had submitted the wrong type of visa.
Federal authorities had hoped Victorian departmental officials would help sort out the issue but they rejected the request to accept Djokovic’s visa.
The Border Force officials do have the discretion to allow Djokovic into the country but The Age reported that at midnight the situation was still ongoing.
Djokovic was last reported to be in an airport room with border officials being grilled over the evidence for his vaccine exemption.
It comes after Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews released a strong statement on Wednesday afternoon, reiterating that Djokovic must “provide acceptable proof” that he can enter the country despite not being vaccinated.
“Any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our strict border requirements,” the statement read.
“While the Victorian Government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth Government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border.
“If any arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travellers.
“Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our borders comply with our strict border requirements.
“No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment.”
ABC Defence Correspondent Andrew Greene later reported the ABF Acting Commissioner is “believed” to be looking into an “issue” with Djokovic’s Australian Travel Declaration.
That was later confirmed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said authorities are examining Djokovic’s travel declaration and warned he could be on “the next plane home”.
“My view is that any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border (rules) … when he arrives in Australia,” Morrison said.
“He has to because if he’s not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully vaccinated travellers.
“So we await his presentation and what evidence he provides to support that.
“My view is he should be treated no different to anyone else. There are other cases — there are quite a number over the last couple of years — where people have had these exemptions and have the suitable proof to support their claim in those circumstances.
“So the circumstance is not unique. The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for the exemption.”
The nature of the issue is not known at this stage.
It comes after the controversial Serbian star revealed on social media that he had received an “exemption permission” to travel, before Tennis Australia confirmed he will compete at the Australian Open.
Djokovic’s participation in Melbourne has been under a cloud for some time after he refused to reveal his vaccination status, but officials said he had been cleared to compete after a “rigorous review” of his case.
Djokovic is equal on 20 grand slam titles with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Federer isn’t playing due to injury, while Nadal tested positive for Covid-19 in recent weeks but still plans on featuring at the first major of the year.
There is a vaccine mandate in place at Australian tournaments this summer, including the Australian Open, starting at Melbourne Park on January 17.
Nine-time Australian Open champion Djokvoic broke his silence on whether he was playing in the year’s tournament via a photo to Instagram with his bags at an airport.
“Happy New Year, everybody!,” Djokovic posted.
“Wishing you all health, love, and happiness in every present moment and may you feel love & respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet.
“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!!”
Tennis Australia released a statement late on Tuesday night.
“Novak Djokovic will compete at the Australian Open and is on his way to Australia,” it read.
“Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.
“One of those was the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health. They assessed all applications to see if they met the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines.”
Tennis Australia boss and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said players, fans and staff at the Australian Open must be fully vaccinated, unless there is a genuine reason why an exemption should be granted.
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“Central to this process was that the decisions were made by independent medical experts and that every applicant was given due consideration.”
Djokovic was a late withdrawal from the Serbian team for the ATP Cup, which started in Sydney on Saturday but the reason for his withdrawal was not revealed.
Tiley added on the Today show on Wednesday he empathised with those disappointed by the decision, but insisted all protocols had been followed.
“As an organisation and as a sport, we’ve done what everyone else does and would do if they wanted to come to Australia and under certain conditions,” he said.
“And we have abided by those conditions and I know Australia’s had the most comprehensive response to COVID of any nation in the world. And our governments have done everything they humanly possibly can to keep us safe.
“It’s ultimately the decision of the medical experts an we follow that accordingly. In this case, Novak made that application. And like others, there’s been 26 athletes and their primary support staff that have made applications and handful of those have been granted by the panel.
“The conditions in which any tennis player comes in, no matter who they are, are conditions that have been put on tennis and put on anyone coming into Australia by the Australian government.”
Djokovic expressed his opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine in April 2020 when it was suggested they might be obligatory so tournament play could resume.
“Personally I am not pro-vaccines,” said Djokovic.
“I would not like it for someone to compel me to be vaccinated so I can travel. “But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.”
It is not the first time Djokovic has opposed the perceived medical route having been against surgery when he had an elbow problem in 2017 — this decision led to his split with then coach Andre Agassi.
However, when his alternative remedy did not work he opted for surgery in 2018 although he regretted doing so on a personal note.
“Every time I thought about what I did, I felt like I had failed myself,” Djokovic told the Daily Telegraph.
Djokovic has received support from his family too over his Australian conundrum. His father Srdjan said in late November that his son would probably not play in Melbourne, accusing the organisers of “blackmail”.
Government officials in Victoria state, which hosts the Australian Open, had been adamant for months that only vaccinated players would be able to play the tournament.
“They’re the rules. Medical exemptions are just that — it’s not a loophole for privileged tennis players,” the state’s Deputy Premier James Merlino said recently.
Confirmation that the Serbian superstar is en route sets the scene for a showdown with arch-rival Nadal, with both gunning for a record 21st Grand Slam title.
The Spanish superstar is already in Melbourne preparing after recovering from the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked about the decision on Wednesday and pinned responsibility on the Victorian government.
“Well, that is a matter for the Victorian government. They have provided him with an exemption to come to Australia, and so we then act in accordance with that decision,” he told reporters.
Asked whether he thought it was a fair call, Morrison answered: “Well, that’s how it works. States provide exemptions for people to enter on those basis, and that’s been happening for the last two years. So there’s no change to that arrangement.
“The Victorian government made their decision on that. And so I’d have to refer to the Victoria Government about their reasons for doing so.”