Morning Sun

Djokovic spends religious day in detention

- By John Pye

Regardless of who made an error on the visa or the vaccinatio­n waiver or whatever, the reality Friday for tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic was spending one of his important religious holidays in an Australian detention hotel working on his challenge against deportatio­n.

Djokovic has been receiving calls from Serbia, including from his parents and the president, hoping to boost his spirits. A priest from the Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church in Melbourne sought permission from immigratio­n authoritie­s to visit the nine-time Australian Open champion to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas.

“Our Christmas is rich in many customs and it is so important that a priest visits him,” the church’s dean, Milorad Locard,

told the Australian Broadcasti­ng Corp. “The whole thing around this event is appalling. That he has to spend Christmas in detention ... it is unthinkabl­e.”

The evidence that Djokovic was relying on to support a medical exemption to Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccinatio­n policy was rejected by Australian border authoritie­s when he arrived at the Melbourne airport late Wednesday, and his visa was canceled. He has been confined to the detention hotel since being moved from the airport.

The Australian Border Force confirmed late Friday that after further investigat­ions into the visa status of two other people connected to the Australian Open, one voluntaril­y departed the country and another was taken into immigratio­n detention pending deportatio­n. The ABF said it would make no further comment on either person.

The embassy for the Czech Republic in Canberra identified 38-yearold doubles player Renata Voráþová as one of the people.

“Renata Voráþová has decided to leave Australia at the earliest possible time and won’t participat­e in the tournament in Melbourne,” the Czech embassy said.

During the day, Djokovic’s supporters gathered outside the Park Hotel, used to house refugees and asylum seekers near downtown Melbourne, waving flags and banners.

They mixed with human rights advocates who were there more to highlight the plight of other longer-term people in detention, many of whom have long complained about their living conditions and exposure to the coronaviru­s in the pandemic.

A day after the prime minister and the home affairs minister said it was the responsibi­lity of each traveler to have their visa documents in order, it seemed to dawn on people locally that whatever mistakes happened in the process, one of the highest-profile athletes in the world was in detention.

Djokovic flew to Australia confident he had everything he needed to compete. He had been approved by the Victoria state government for a medical exemption to the tournament’s vaccinatio­n rules based on the details he supplied to an independen­t panel of medical experts, and as per Tennis Australia guidelines.

But that same evidence didn’t comply with the Australian government’s regulation­s.

So, instead of preparing to defend his Australian Open title, and bid to win a men’s-record 21st major title, he’s preparing to go to the Federal Circuit Court on Monday to challenge his visa cancellati­on and deportatio­n. That’s a week before the season-opening major starts.

Attention is moving away from Djokovic’s vaccinatio­n status — a touchy topic in a city where residents spent 256 days across 2020 and ‘21 under severe restrictio­ns on movements and gatherings — and on to questions about how he wound up in this situation.

Even some who have been critical of Djokovic in the past are seemingly in his corner.

“Look, I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mums health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad,” Nick Kyrgios, an Australian player and outspoken critic of some of Djokovic’s opinions on vaccinatio­ns, posted on Twitter. “This is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.”

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