Australia Detains Another Tennis Player Over Visa Issues

By Reuters
January 7, 2022 Updated: January 7, 2022

MELBOURNE—Tennis world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was joined in Australian immigration detention by Czech women’s player Renata Voracova on Friday as he sought to fend off deportation over the country’s COVID-19 rules and compete in the Australian Open, where he is seeking to win his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam singles title.

Both players were being kept at the modest Park Hotel in inner-city Melbourne, where scores of asylum seekers are also housed behind grey walls and locked windows.

The Czech Foreign Ministry said in a statement that 81st-ranked Voracova planned to leave after being faced with similar circumstances as Djokovic.

“Renata Voracova decided to drop out of the tournament due to limited possibilities for training and to leave Australia,” it said, adding that it had made a diplomatic protest and that several other players were caught in the same situation.

Djokovic was held at the airport on Wednesday. Authorities revoked a visa granted on the basis of a medical exemption from Australia’s strict vaccination requirements.

Novak Djokovic
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open defending champion, waits at an Australian Border Force desk on his arrival at Melbourne Airport, Australia, on Jan. 5, 2022. (AP Photo)

Djokovic’s lawyers won legal approval for him to remain until a full court hearing against the federal government on Monday.

The Australian Border Force (ABF) said on Friday that one person had voluntarily left Australia while a third person’s visa had also been canceled. It did not give names.

The family of Novak Djokovic and the president of his home country say Australia’s treatment of the tennis star is part of a political agenda.

“This has nothing to do with sports, this is a political agenda. Novak is the best player and the best athlete in the world, but several hundred million people from the West can’t stomach that,” Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, told reporters in Belgrade on Thursday.

Canberra rejected on Friday suggestions by Serbian supporters, including Djokovic’s family, that he was a prisoner in Australia. “He is free to leave at any time that he chooses,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told reporters.

Djokovic on Friday took to Instagram to thank his supporters around the world amid the visa row.

“Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated,” he wrote.

Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic
Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic rally outside the Park Hotel, where the star athlete is believed to be held while he stays in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 6, 2022. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

The Australian Open begins on Jan. 17, but Djokovic is constrained from training as he sits in a hotel where one Iranian detainee said he had found maggots and mold in the bread.

Djokovic, 34, has not revealed the grounds for his exemption. Vaccines are not mandatory in Australia but are required for some activities.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal, who like Djokovic has won 20 Grand Slams, said he felt sorry for his rival “but at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago.”

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios said he supported vaccination, “but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad.” He posted on Twitter, “This is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.”

Djokovic spent Orthodox Christmas in the immigration detention hotel on Friday. His wife Jelena posted a photo of the couple embracing on a beach to mark Orthodox Christmas, saying: “The only law that we should all respect across every single border is love and respect for another human being.”

Novak Djokovic
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning his final match against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, on Feb. 21, 2021. (Kelly Defina/Reuters)

Djokovic had received permission to enter Victoria without a vaccination from the state government, which however does not have the authority to issue visas to international visitors.

The Age newspaper reported that the exemption was because he had contracted COVID-19 in the past six months.

Tennis Australia and Victoria government officials said Djokovic had received no preferential treatment, adding that he was among a handful of approvals for exemptions in an anonymous and independent assessment of 26 applications.

The Professional Tennis Players Association, a breakaway group launched by Djokovic, said they were in contact with him.

“Djokovic has verified his wellbeing to us,” the group said in a statement. “He has also requested that we allow him to personally share the facts of his detainment in his own words, and in his own time.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.