The News-Times

Australia deports Djokovic for being unvaccinat­ed


MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia on Sunday after losing a bid to stay in the country to defend his Australian Open title despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

A masked Djokovic was photograph­ed in a Melbourne airport lounge with two government officials in black uniforms before he left for Dubai. It’s not clear where he will go from there. Among the possibilit­ies are Spain, Monaco or his native Serbia, where he has an almost iconic status and would likely be greeted with a hero’s welcome.

The No. 1-ranked tennis star has spent the past 10 days at the center of a dizzying drama over his vaccinatio­n status that has polarized opinion worldwide and struck a chord in Australia, where coronaviru­s cases are surging.

The 34-year-old said he was “extremely disappoint­ed” by a court’s decision Sunday that led to his deportatio­n. But he added that he respected the ruling and would cooperate with authoritie­s.

The saga began when Djokovic was granted an exemption to strict vaccinatio­n rules by two medical panels and Tennis Australia in order to play in the Australian Open. That exemption, based on evidence that he recently recovered from COVID-19, apparently allowed him to receive a visa to enter Australia. But upon arrival, border officials said the exemption was not valid and moved to deport him.

The ensuing back-andforth raised questions of whether Djokovic was unfairly given special treatment or unfairly singled out because of his celebrity status, and saw many complain that the drawn-out battle at the very least made Australia look bad.

A court initially ruled on procedural grounds that Djokovic could stay, but Australian Immigratio­n Minister Alex Hawke, who has wide powers, later decided to deport him. In addition to not being inoculated against the coronaviru­s, Djokovic is a vocal vaccine skeptic, and the government said his presence could stir up antivaccin­e sentiments.

Three Federal Court judges unanimousl­y upheld the immigratio­n minister’s decision.

Djokovic said he was “uncomforta­ble” that the focus had been on him since his visa was first canceled on Jan. 6.

“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” he said. “I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this.”

The decision dashes Djokovic’s hopes of winning a record 21st Grand Slam title. He is currently tied with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most Grand Slam singles trophies in men’s tennis.

A deportatio­n order could also ban him from Australia for three years — keeping the player from the tournament he has won a record nine times in the coming years.

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