Novak Djokovic: Timeline of tennis star’s visa saga in Australia

Novak Djokovic remains in a detention hotel in Melbourne after his dramatic detainment upon landing in Australia as the world’s No 1 tennis player awaits his appeal hearing on Monday.

The nine-times Australian Open champion has been kept at a state-run quarantine hotel in the suburb of Carlton, with the Australian Border Force denying the 34-year-old any preferential treatment.

The saga has become a major diplomatic incident with Australians furious that Djokovic, who has openly opposed vaccinations, was granted an exemption to enter the country.

Meanwhile, Serbian politicians have fiercely criticised the actions of the Australian authorities, accusing Scott Morrison’s government of attempting to persecute and humiliate Djokovic.

Here is a timeline of how the saga has unfolded so far:

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April 2020 – Djokovic publicly opposes vaccines

After the coronavirus outbreak is declared a global pandemic, Djokovic publicly declares that he is “opposed to vaccination” and “wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel”.

His comments receive widespread backlash and one of Serbia’s leading scientists accuses Djokovic of “creating misconceptions.”

June 2020 – Djokovic tests positive at own tournament

As sport grinds to a halt across the continent, Djokovic organises a competition in the Balkans named the Adria Tour and invites several leading players, including Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, to participate.

Players are seen partying at a nightclub without masks and the event is cancelled after two of its five legs when Djokovic becomes one of several players to test positive for Covid-19. He subsequently apologises for organising the event.

January 2021 – Djokovic attracts criticism in Australia

Djokovic rails against the strict quarantine measures imposed on players travelling to Melbourne for the Australian Open, despite being one of a select few to benefit from access to a gym and outdoor courts at a separate hotel in Adelaide.

His comments draw criticism but he claims they were taken out of context and were designed to help other players rather than himself.

4 January 2022 – Djokovic receives ‘medical exemption’

After one of the greatest seasons of his career, months of speculation seemingly end with Djokovic being granted an exemption to defend his title in Australia, despite not revealing his vaccination status.

“Today I’m heading Down Under with exemption permission. Let’s go 2022,” he writes on Twitter before boarding a flight from Dubai to Melbourne.

A statement from Tennis Australia, in conjunction with Victoria State, appears to confirm such an exemption, reading: “Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.”

Djokovic’s post prompts furious backlash from within Australia, where cases have been rising sharply and Melbourne itself has been subjected to six lockdowns.

Under pressure from the public, prime minister Scott Morrison and other politicians intervene and insist Djokovic will not be afforded special treatment. “If he’s not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons,” Morrison writes on Twitter.

“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any 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.”

5 January 2022 – Djokovic held at border as visa cancelled

The mood has turned when Djokovic lands at Tullamarine airport and, despite believing he has clearance to enter the country, he is held for around ten hours by the Australian Border Force. His exemption is withdrawn and his visa is cancelled and eventually the 34-year-old is transferred to the Park Hotel in Carlton, a state-run immigration facility that is also used to house asylum seekers. Djokovic lodges an appeal with the hearing set for 10am on Monday.

6 January 2022 – Serbia reacts to Djokovic’s detainment

After fans gather outside the Park Hotel in protest, back in Serbia Djokovic’s parents both liken the immigration facility to a “prison” and claim it is dirty and riddled with bugs. His father, Srdan, compares Djokovic to Jesus and claims he is being “crucified” for his values.

Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic attacks Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, claiming Djokovic is a victim of persecution and is being used as a political pawn. “I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately,” he says in a statement.

Australian politicians insist visa applications are a matter for the federal government and cannot be decided by Tennis Australia and Victoria State. Acting sports minister Jaala Pulford tweets: “We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam. 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.”

Morrison reiterates that point on Thursday morning in a tweet: “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules.”

7 January 2022 – Djokovic breaks silence as second player detained

After requests to switch to his own accommodation, order food from a personal chef and gain access to a tennis court are all denied, Djokovic breaks his silence in an Instagram post thanking his fans for their support. He said: “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated.”

The government confirms that two more players are under investigation by the Australian Border Force after successfully entering Melbourne under the same vaccine exemption. Doubles player Renata Voracova, who had already competed in a warm-up event, is detained by officials and taken to the same hotel as Djokovic. The third player leaves the country.

8 January 2022 – Court documents explain Djokovic’s case

Ahead of his hearing on Monday, court documents released by Djokovic’s lawyers outline his case. They reveal that Djokovic took a PCR test on 16 December that returned a positive result which appears to form the basis for his exemption. There is also a letter dated 1 January from Australia’s Department of Home Affairs – the agency that has detained him – appearing to indicate that he “met the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival.”

Djokovic had not previously revealed the positive test and pictures show that he attended public events on both the day of the test and the following day in Belgrade.

A leaked video shows Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley praising his staff for their “unbelievable efforts” a day after the organisation denies “misleading” anyone.

“There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on and a lot of blaming going on, but I can assure you our team has done an unbelievable job and have done everything they possibly could according to all the instructions that they have been provided,” he says.

What’s next?

Djokovic remains at the Park Hotel until his hearing is held at 10am on Monday morning in Melbourne (11pm Sunday GMT).

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If his appeal is successful, he could still be granted an exemption and be able to defend his title and attempt to win a record-breaking 21st grand slam.

If his appeal fails, his punishment for arriving in Australia could include a ban from the country for up to three years.

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