Novak Djokovic’s odds of defending his title at the Australian Open just took a major hit.
Top-ranked Djokovic was denied entry into Australia following concerns over an erroneous visa application and insufficient evidence to support his medical-exemption to remain unvaccinated. Following questioning, Australian officials announced plans to remove him immediately.
On Tuesday, tournament officials announced that Djokovic had been granted a medical exemption to compete unvaccinated. This drew ire from many within Australia, where currently over 90% of people 16 years or older are double vaccinated. As it stands, all players and staff at the tournament must be vaccinated or have an exemption determined by an independent expert panel.
According to The Age, the Australian Border Force (ABF) detained Djokovic upon arrival in Melbourne on Wednesday morning on the grounds that his team had not requested the correct visa for unvaccinated travelers. He was questioned overnight and by Thursday morning the ABF had released a statement confirming that Djokovic’s visa had been canceled.
Djokovic was seeking his 21st Grand Slam victory, surpassing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to become the most decorated male tennis player of all time. Of Djokovic's 20 Grand Slam titles, nine have come in Australia. The tournament is set to begin Jan. 17th.
It is suspected that Djokovic’s argument for an exemption was based on a positive test result within the past six months. It is unclear whether that qualifies as sufficient evidence in Australia. Djokovic has not been shy about expressing his distrust of vaccines and these concerns have reportedly been building in the lead up to the tournament.
This has sparked international response as people dispute the timeline of events and validity of claims on both sides.
Defenders of Djokovic have accused Australian officials of targeting the Serbian star, claiming that other athletes have arrived in Australia under the same exemption.
Speaking to Russian news outlet Sputnik, Djokovic’s dad, Srdjan Djokovic, accused the Australian Border Force of holding his son “in captivity” and characterized his response as “not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world.”
Meanwhile, local controversy has broken out within Victoria, the Australian state that Melbourne is a part of. Victorian Sports Minister Jaala Pulford claimed the ABF reached out on behalf of Djokovic asking for her support to sponsor his visa, a claim the ABF denied. She tweeted her statement that “We’ve always been clear on two things: visa approvals are a matter for the federal government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors.”
It remains unclear as to whether or not Djokovic’s team intends to appeal the decision.