Tennis star Novak Djokovic faces possible deportation from Australia after the country’s immigration minister decided on Friday to cancel his visa for a second time.
The decision is the latest twist in a saga that has made headlines around the world and has become a focal point in the debate over Covid-19 vaccination mandates. It could end the Serb’s bid for a record-breaking 21st Major title at the Australian Open tournament, which starts on Monday.
Djokovic’s lawyers could go back to court to seek an injunction that would prevent him from leaving the country. If that fails, he will be barred from applying for an Australian visa for three years.
In a decision likely to have far-reaching sporting and diplomatic ramifications, Immigration Secretary Alex Hawke used his discretionary powers to have the visa canceled again and Djokovic expelled from the country.
Hawke said in a statement he made the decision “for reasons of health and good order, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”.
He said the Government is “firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Djokovic, 34, had his Australian visa reissued earlier this week by a judge who ordered he be released from immigration detention.
The unvaccinated men’s tennis No. 1 had his visa withdrawn for the first time last week after his claim for a medical exemption on arrival in Melbourne was denied by border officials. But Djokovic won an appeal that allowed him to stay in the country and practice, even as the threat of deportation hung over him.
NBC News has reached out to Djokovic’s representatives for comment.
Djokovic admitted on Wednesday that he made a false statement on his travel form to enter Australia and was unable to isolate himself immediately after testing positive for Covid in Serbia last month, prompting scrutiny by Australian officials and the media of the world strengthened.
The country’s strict border regulations require all non-Australian arrivals to be vaccinated to enter the country. All Australian Open players, staff, officials and fans must also be fully vaccinated to enter the tournament venue.
Court documents earlier this week confirmed the tennis star is unvaccinated, but Djokovic argued he was granted a medical exemption to enter the country because he was diagnosed with Covid-19 in Serbia last month and has since recovered.
Djokovic spent four days in immigration detention among asylum seekers and undocumented migrants while awaiting a verdict on his visa application. Monday’s court decision made no determination as to whether his reason for the medical exemption was valid.
Tournament organizers still included Djokovic in Thursday’s draw as he remained in limbo, although that was delayed due to uncertainty.
The top-ranked player continued to train at Rod Laver Arena as he attempted to refocus on tennis and his bid to become the all-time leader in the men’s singles Grand Slam titles.
The Djokovic saga has left many Australians outraged as the Omicron variant is sparking a fresh wave of cases in the country after months of severe movement restrictions.
The excitement has rocked the tennis world and overshadowed preparations for the Australian Open, putting the sport at the heart of the global debate over government restrictions to combat the pandemic.
It has also generated strong support for Djokovic in his native Serbia, where his family and the country’s leaders criticized Australia’s treatment of the national sporting icon.