Novak Djokovic's Absence From Australian Open is a Loss for the Game, Says ATP
09:42 GMT 16.01.2022 (Updated: 11:35 GMT 16.01.2022)
Earlier today, an Australian court rejected the Serbian athlete's appeal regarding the cancellation of his visa. The row began over Djokovic's undisclosed vaccination status and the medical exemption he received from two independent medical panels.
Novak Djokovic's absence
from the Australian Open is a loss for the game, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) has said in a statement. The sport's governing body wished the athlete well, but at the same time stressed that "decisions of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected".
"More time is required to take stock of the facts and to take the learnings from this situation. Irrespective of how this point has been reached, Novak is one of our sport's greatest champions. [We] look forward to seeing him back on court soon", ATP said.
It ended its statement "strongly" recommending vaccination to all tennis players.
Reactions From Tennis Stars
The ATP's remarks echo the frustration of tennis stars such as Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. Murray said the COVID-19-related row was not "great for tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak". Nadal described the situation as a "circus", at the same time noting that decisions have "consequences" and "people who are in a position that can create, or can have an impact on other people need to be responsible".
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the Australian authorities "humiliated" themselves after the court rejected his plea to appeal the decision revoking Djokovic's visa. Vucic described the ruling as a political witch hunt.
Timeline of Events and Vaccination Status
The coronavirus pandemic has become a hugely divisive issue, but the Djokovic saga made it even more polarising and fuelled the debate on vaccine hesitancy and the rights of people who choose not to get inoculated.
Here is a quick timeline of what happened:
At the beginning of January, the Serbian athlete received a permit to enter Australia after meeting the requirements for quarantine-free travel to Australia;
On 6 January, Australian authorities cancelled his visa after the nation's immigration agency said Djokovic did not provide evidence for the medical exemption he received from two independent panels, organised by Tennis Australia, which is hosting the Australian Open, and Victoria state, where the event is held;
Starting from 6 January he was held in an immigration detention facility used for housing refugees. Serbia
accused Canberra of harassment, while the Australian authorities insisted they're abiding by the country’s rules. Djokovic then filed a legal motion to challenge the agency's decision;
On 10 January, a judge reinstated his visa, ruling that border officials ignored correct procedure when he arrived;
On 14 January, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke revoked his visa
for a second time citing health and good order grounds. He was again placed in the detention centre and faced deportation. The athlete's lawyers then appealed the decision.
Under the current rules in Australia, an unvaccinated person can enter the country only if they have a medical excuse for not getting the jab. Djokovic, who's voiced opposition to COVID-19 vaccines, refused to reveal his status when he entered the country. His lawyers said a recent coronavirus infection was the reason for the medical exemption he received.
However, Australian authorities have said that this is not a valid reason to enter the country. Only individuals who've caught COVID-19 and are fully vaccinated are allowed to enter Australia.
Reports say Tennis Australia, which organises the Australian Open, misled athletes about the safety rules in the country as it previously held negotiations with an Australian advisory group about permitting entry to individuals, who were not vaccinated but had a recent COVID-19 infection. Tennis Australia, has vehemently denied the accusations.
On 14 January, it became known that Djokovic, who according to his lawyers tested positive for COVID-19 on 16 December 2021, went to an interview with the French publication L'Equipe on 18 December. The athlete, widely regarded as one of the best players in the history of tennis, admitted to breaking safety rules
, saying he didn't want to let the journalist down, but stopped short of apologising, only saying that his decision was "an error of judgment" and that he should have rescheduled the interview.
The tennis player also admitted making a false declaration on his travel form prior to entering Australia – it stated that he had not travelled in the 14 days before his arrival, when in reality he travelled across Serbia and went to Spain. Djokovic blamed the issue on his manager, saying it was a human error and "not deliberate".
These revelations as well as the athlete's opposition to vaccination (his wife previously shared an online post about a COVID-19 conspiracy theory) has prompted anger in Australia, which has seen some of the world's most strict coronavirus rules.
At the same time, the whole row prompted a debate. One side deemed that the player showed a marked disregard for safety standards, noting that his decision to not get vaccinated came with certain consequences. The other side blamed Australian officials for giving Djokovic a permit to enter the country only to revoke it later.
Djokovic arrived in Australia to defend his title and had he participated in the tournament and won it, he would have become the most acclaimed male tennis athlete. Reports previously said that the revocation of his visa may also carry a three-year ban on obtaining a new one.