Health

Djokovic back in practice, family hails ‘biggest victory of his life’

The fight
over his medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination may not be over, however,
as the Australian government said it was still considering another move to
deport him.

“I am
pleased and grateful that the judge overturned my visa cancellation,” Djokovic
wrote on Twitter. “Despite all that has happened I want to stay and try to
compete at the Australian Open.”

Earlier
Judge Anthony Kelly had ruled the federal government’s decision last week to
revoke the Serbian tennis star’s visa amid was “unreasonable” and
ordered his release.

“Novak
is free and just a moment ago he went to the tennis court to practice,”
Djokovic’s brother Djordje told a family news conference in Belgrade.
“He’s out there to set another record.”

Djokovic
himself, who arrived in Australia last week in pursuit of a record 21st Grand
Slam title at the Australian Open from Jan. 17, had spent the day at his
lawyers’ chambers.

There were
chaotic scenes on Monday evening as supporters who had gathered outside the
lawyers’ office chanting “Free Novak!” surged around a black car with
tinted windows leaving the building, while police at one stage used pepper
spray as they tried to clear a path.

A spokesman
for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said he was considering using his broad
discretionary powers he is given by Australia’s Migration Act to again revoke
Djokovic’s visa.

The
controversy has been closely followed around the world, creating diplomatic
tensions between Belgrade and Canberra and sparking heated debate over national
vaccination rules.

Serbia’s
parliamentary speaker, Ivica Dacic, said he was concerned Hawke could still
deport Djokovic, a move that would bar the 34-year-old from the country for
three years.

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“The
process should have ended when the court ruled on the matter,” Dacic told
Serbia’s Happy TV. “It defies common sense.”

COURT
‘CIRCUS’

Spanish
rival Rafa Nadal called the drama surrounding the build-up to the tournament a
“circus”.

“Whether
or not I agree with Djokovic on some things, justice has spoken and has said that
he has the right to participate in the Australian Open and I think it is the
fairest decision,” Nadal told Spanish radio Onda Cero.

The
authorities’ efforts to let the media and public follow events in court at
times descended into farce, with pranksters hijacking internet links to stream
loud music and porn.

Judge Kelly
said he had quashed the decision to block Djokovic’s entry to Australia because
the player was not given enough time to speak to tennis organisers and lawyers
to respond fully after he was notified of the intent to cancel his visa.

Officials at
Melbourne’s airport, where Djokovic had been detained on arrival late on Wednesday,
reneged on an agreement to give Djokovic until 8.30 a.m. to speak to tournament
organiser Tennis Australia and lawyers, Kelly said.

Djokovic was
instead woken by officials around 6.00 a.m. after a brief rest and said he felt
pressured to respond. The player, long an opponent of mandatory vaccination,
told border officials he was unvaccinated and had had COVID-19 twice, according
to a transcript of the interview.

MEDICAL
EXEMPTION

Kelly
earlier told the court it appeared Djokovic had sought and received the
required medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination on the basis that he had
contracted the virus last month. He had presented evidence of this before he
travelled to Melbourne and when he landed on Wednesday evening.

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“What
more could this man have done?” Kelly said.

Kelly’s
ruling did not directly address the issue of whether the exemption on the
grounds of an infection in the past six months was valid, which the government
had disputed.

Tennis
Australia CEO Craig Tiley said earlier that his organisation had spoken with
federal and state officials for months to ensure the safe passage of players.
Tennis Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Though news
of the ruling was greeted with drums and dancing by around 50 supporters
outside the Melbourne court, wider public opinion in Australia, where more than
90 percent of the adult population is double vaccinated, has been largely
against the player.

Emotions ran
particularly high in Melbourne, which has experienced the world’s longest
cumulative lockdown.

The
country’s COVID-19 cases surpassed 1 million on Monday, with more than half
recorded in the past week, driving up hospitalisation numbers, straining supply
chains and overloading testing facilities.

The saga kicked
off when Djokovic posted a photo of himself leaning on his luggage on Instagram
last Tuesday, telling the world he was headed to Australia with a vaccination
exemption.

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