After detaining Novak Djokovic in a tumultuous row over vaccine rules, Australia has said it is looking into the visas of other foreign tennis players.
After his entry into the country was denied on Wednesday, the men’s world number one remains in immigration detention in Melbourne and faces deportation.
He has filed an urgent court challenge, which will be heard on Monday, one week before the Australian Open.
The tournament schedule is now even more uncertain.
Karen Andrews, the Minister of Home Affairs, told Channel 9 on Friday that intelligence “indicates there are some individuals here now who have not met the entry requirements, and we have to investigate that.”
However, she did not specify how many other players were being investigated or who they were.
Ms. Andrews went on to say that the tennis player was not being held, hostage.
“He is free to leave whenever he wants, and Border Force will actually assist him in doing so,” she added.
Many Australians were outraged when Djokovic, who has stated his opposition to vaccination, was granted a medical exemption to play in the tournament for unspecified reasons.
According to tournament organizers, two independent medical panels convened by Tennis Australia, the event’s governing body, and Victoria state granted the exemption.
However, the Australian Border Force (ABF) officials said the 34-year-old Serbian player “failed to provide appropriate evidence” at Melbourne Airport on Wednesday.
The federal government has chastised tennis Australia for ignoring ABF advice on entry requirements. Victoria claimed that Tennis Australia had also failed to pass on this advice on Friday.
Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, has also been accused of politicizing the issue. The prime minister is under fire due to the rising number of Covid-19 infections in the country, and a federal election is expected in May.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Djokovic was a victim of “harassment” and that “the entire country of Serbia” was behind him.
Mr. Morrison has denied that the visa was revoked due to “any particular position in relation to Serbia.”
It’s unclear how long Djokovic will be held in an immigration detention facility whose poor conditions have been widely criticized by refugees. Serbia has demanded that Australia relocate him to a more upscale hotel.
Outside the hotel where Novak Djokovic is held, tensions and emotions have been high. His supporters stayed until the wee hours of the morning.
Some wrote “stay strong” on the sidewalk in big yellow letters. Others began to light candles.
“It’s [the Orthodox] Christmas,” a visibly emotional woman said. “He’ll be on his own up there. It’s all a ruse.”
This story has a lot of twists and turns. The fury. The political situation. A visa is required. And then there’s tennis, which is why the world number one is in town.
Fans of Djokovic are outraged that he was allowed to travel to Australia only to be told he had to leave due to a visa issue.
On the other hand, other Australians are outraged that a world-class athlete who has been vocal about his vaccine opposition was granted an exemption, despite the fact that their politicians have been urging them to get both jabs and now the booster for nearly a year.
Both types of rage are understandable, and they share at least one thing in common: displeasure with the authorities’ handling of the situation.
The state and federal governments, as well as Tennis Australia, have been in a constant battle – with a lot of blame-shifting.
Politicians have tried to demonstrate that they can control who enters and exits the country, but they have lost control of the narrative in the process.
Regardless of how you look at it, Australia is in a humiliating situation.
Jelena Djokovic, Djokovic’s wife, expressed gratitude to people “all over the world” for “using your voice to send love to my husband.”
Srdjan, the player’s father, said his son was being held in an airport room guarded by police and that it was “not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the entire world.”
Nick Kyrgios, an Australian tennis player, tweeted his support for vaccinations but also said, “How we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad.”
Others, such as Rafael Nadal of Spain, who is currently in Melbourne preparing for the tournament, said it was “normal” for Australians to become “very frustrated with the case.”
“The only clear thing for me is that if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open,” he said, adding, “Of course, after so many people have died for two years, my feeling is that the vaccine is the only way to stop this pandemic.”
The Australian Open starts on January 17th. Djokovic has won the tournament nine times before.
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