Your Source for NPR News & Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
World News

Djokovic's fate remains unclear as Australian Open saga continues

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

More than 91% of adults in Australia are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and many were not happy when an unvaccinated man was recently given an exemption to a vaccine mandate to enter the country. That man is world No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic. His visa was revoked after he arrived. He spent days detained at a hotel. But now a federal judge has unrevoked his visa, allowing Novak Djokovic to start training again before next week's Australian Open.

Stephanie Ferrier of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation joins us now from Melbourne. Good to have you here.

STEPHANIE FERRIER: Thanks for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the judge's decision.

FERRIER: OK. Well, this is Judge Anthony Kelly from the Federal Circuit Court, and he has basically ruled to reinstate Novak Djokovic's cancelled visa. This was the visa that was cancelled by Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews here after it was claimed by Australian Border Force officials that he did not meet the exemption requirements to be able to come into Australia. Now, those requirements are that you need to be double vaccinated or have some sort of medical exemption.

Now, at the time, he was given information from Tennis Australia here that to have been recently infected or to have had a COVID-positive infection within six months would classify as one of those reasons for exemption. But the Federal Government said that that was not the case. And so that is why his visa was cancelled. And he spent four nights in immigration detention.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

FERRIER: The judge ruled that, really, there was nothing more that he could have done, that he had followed what he thought were the rules, that he had obviously asked for more time from those border officials in the early hours of Thursday morning to be able to discuss the matter and get further advice from Tennis Australia, and yet that decision came out.

SHAPIRO: I want to let listeners know - we're hearing some traffic noise behind you. I understand you are just outside of the Melbourne Park where the Australian Open is going to happen next week. Now that the judge has unrevoked Djokovic's visa, what has his reaction and the reaction from his team been?

FERRIER: Yeah. So I should have explained that this is where I am. It's a very busy morning here, and we are right outside where there were a lot of delivery trucks coming out because the Australian Open is starting next Monday.

Now, we saw some huge reaction from the Djokovic supporters who moved en masse to his legal offices in Melbourne CBD, which is only about a kilometer or so away from here at Melbourne Park. And they were eagerly awaiting their hero after the judge sensationally reinstated his visa. He had been there because there were technical difficulties with the web link and the video link that the court was conducting online due to our coronavirus situation here.

Now, they jumped on top of a car. Some of the people even jumped on top of the car, and they surged towards this black car that they believed had Djokovic inside.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

FERRIER: The police ended up beating them back and ended up using even pepper spray to push back...

SHAPIRO: Oh, my goodness.

FERRIER: ...The crowd. So it was really quite a chaotic scene, as you can imagine. And people were horrified by the police response. They said that they had to act for the aggressive behavior.

Now, we saw Novak Djokovic himself. We don't know if he was in that car or not, but he certainly made time to come down to Centre Court here at Rod Laver Arena. So he swapped the Federal Court for Centre Court, and he posted some information on Twitter basically showing him with his entourage, smiling, saying that he was pleased and grateful that the judge overturned the visa cancellation despite all that had happened.

SHAPIRO: All right. And just because we've got less than a minute left, I want to get to...

FERRIER: Sure.

SHAPIRO: ...What the government has said, the Australian government that tried to block him in the first place. What's their reaction to this been?

FERRIER: Absolutely. Well, the government is saying that they are still assessing this at the moment. This is not game, set and match to Djokovic because this still allows our immigration minister, Alex Hawke, to use his discretionary power to once again deport him and detain him until he is deported. We don't know whether or not that's going to happen because there are a lot of political interests at play here. Obviously, the government wanted to make a very strong stance, saying rules are rules and nobody was above them. But at the same time...

SHAPIRO: All right.

FERRIER: ...This is going to be huge reputational damage for the Australian Open if he is deported at the same time.

SHAPIRO: We will continue following this story, and we appreciate your reporting.

Stephanie Ferrier of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, thank you very much.

FERRIER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DICE RAW, P.O.R.N., THE ROOTS, TUCK NORTH SONG, "WALK ALONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.