(Update 1: Adds updates with Morrison quotes, further details, edits throughout)
Sydney, Australia, Jan 6 (EFE).- World number one men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic was Thursday morning awaiting deportation from Australia after his visa was canceled for not meeting entry requirements.
At a press conference in Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that “on the issue of Mr Djokovic, rules are rules, and there are no special cases.”
“It is not appropriate for me to go into Mr Djokovic’s own medical history. (…) But all I can say is that the evidence [for] medical exemption that was provided was found to be insufficient,” Morrison said, stressing that border control rules are clear and non-discriminatory.
Djokovic arrived in Melbourne from Dubai on Wednesday night after announcing he had been granted a medical exemption from vaccination that would allow him to defend his Australian Open title.
But after his arrival, the Australian Border Force said that Djokovic “failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently canceled.”
“The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements,” it added. “Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa canceled will be detained and removed from Australia.”
The player was held for several hours at Melbourne airport before he was transferred to a quarantine hotel, where he is to remain until his departure from the country. Supporters had gathered outside the hotel on Thursday, holding placards and dancing.
Vaccination is mandatory to enter Australia, but there are a handful of reasons that an exemption can be granted, including an acute major medical condition such as undergoing a major surgery, a serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, or evidence of infection confirmed by PCR test in the previous six months.
Djokovic has repeatedly refused to publicly state whether he is inoculated against the coronavirus, but said last year that he is personally opposed to vaccinations in general and is against vaccine mandates.
His lawyers plan to appeal the decision, according to local dailies Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić said he had spoken to the player.
“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 said. “In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice.”
The decision means Djokovic will not be able to compete in this month’s Australian Open, a Grand Slam tournament held annually in Melbourne that he has won a record nine times.
The move also could have historical ramifications, considering that the Serbian is tied with fellow tennis greats Roger Federer (who is not playing the Australian Open) and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam singles titles each. If Djokovic won a 10th championship Down Under, he would set a record 21 title wins to become the most successful men’s tennis player in history.
If Djokovic does not play the Australian Open, it will mark the first time he has missed that Grand Slam tournament since he made his debut there in 2005.
Tennis Australia, which organizes the event, defended Djokovic’s expected participation following his tweet on Tuesday, saying his exemption was the result of a rigorous process carried out by two independent panels of medical experts and was in line with government guidelines.
His arrival caused outrage among Australians who have not been able to leave the country for more than 18 months and have experienced long months of quarantine.
Stephen Parnis, a Melbourne emergency physician and former vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, said it was an “appalling” decision.
“I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he’s refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in,” he wrote on Twitter. “If this exemption is true, it sends an appalling message to millions seeking to reduce #COVID19Aus risk to themselves & others. #Vaccination shows respect, Novak.”