Belgrade, Jan 6 (EFE).- Serbia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Thursday lodged a formal protest with Australia’s ambassador over the “inappropriate and inhumane treatment” of world No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic in Melbourne.
In a statement, it said it expects Daniel Emery to make a personal effort to secure adequate lodging for the superstar athlete, who is awaiting a Monday court ruling on his appeal of Australian authorities’ move to revoke his visa.
The 34-year-old Djokovic was transferred to a hotel for asylum seekers and refugees that has been described as dirty by the player’s family, who also said his possessions had been confiscated from him pending the court’s decision.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion arrived at Melbourne’s airport late Wednesday night from Dubai ahead of his expected participation in the Australian Open, a major tournament he has won a record nine times, including the past three editions.
This year’s event is scheduled to run from Jan. 17-30.
Djokovic sparked controversy on Tuesday when he said on Twitter that he had been granted a medical exemption from vaccination against Covid-19 and was heading to Melbourne.
The star player has repeatedly refused to publicly state whether he is inoculated against the coronavirus, but he said early in the pandemic that he is personally opposed to vaccinations in general and is against vaccine mandates.
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 a PCR test in the previous six months.
Tennis Australia, which organizes the Australian Open, defended Djokovic’s expected participation following his tweet, 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.
But the Australian Border Force said Thursday of the decision to revoke his visa that Djokovic had “failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia.”
That move came after the announcement of Djokovic’s vaccination exemption had 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.
Australia has implemented some of the toughest measures in the world against the pandemic, while Melbourne has spent lengthy periods in strict lockdown.
The country has seen an Omicron-driven surge in Covid-19 infections in the weeks prior to the start of this year’s tournament, with accumulated confirmed cases more than tripling from around 212,000 on Dec. 1 to over 680,000 this week.
Meanwhile, the state secretary in Serbia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Nemanja Starovic, said of Thursday’s complaint that his country is not seeking to influence the decision of Australia’s judicial authorities in any way.
But he expressed his hope that the Australian government will move Djokovic to better lodging in the spirit of good bilateral relations.
The official also said there is a strong impression among public opinion in Serbia that Djokovic is the victim of a political game and that the intention all along was to entice him to travel to Australia and then humiliate him upon his arrival.
Starovic added that the superstar athlete was being treated like a criminal, terrorist or illegal immigrant.
Djordje Djokovic, for his part, told a crowd of supporters at a rally on Thursday in front of the National Assembly in Belgrade that his older brother had broken no law and that the treatment of the star tennis player is “the biggest sports-diplomatic scandal in history.”
The decision to bar the world No. 1 from Australia could have historical ramifications, considering that Djokovic is tied with fellow tennis greats Roger Federer (who will not be playing in Melbourne) and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam singles titles each.
If Djokovic is allowed to compete and wins the Australian Open a 10th time in 2022, he would become the most successful men’s tennis player in history. The 35-year-old Nadal will have the same opportunity, although his lone title in Melbourne came in 2009 and he is not favored to win this year. EFE