One man has been arrested and two police officers injured after crowds gathered outside Novak Djokovic’s lawyers’ office in Melbourne to celebrate the world’s number one male tennis player’s win over the Australian federal court turned aggressive on Monday night.
Supporters of the tennis star turned aggressive after unconfirmed reports appeared in Victorian media that Australian authorities were allegedly seeking to arrest the Serbian athlete, despite the federal court ordering his immediate release from immigration detention.
When a black car with tinted windows drove out of Djokovic’s lawyer’s office with several police officers surrounding the car, chaos ensued as fans of Djokovic crowded the car chanting “Free Novak! Free Novak!”
Police struggled to hold back the supporters from the vehicle, some of whom were carrying Serbian flags, with video footage showing a man jumping up and down on top of the vehicle, and police deploying pepper spray to contain the crowd.
Victoria Police said they were forced to use the spray “due to the aggressive behaviour of the crowd.” Police also arrested a 27-year-old man, who is expected to be charged on summons with assaulting police and “acting in a riotous manner.”
Two police, a male senior constable, and a female constable received minor injuries in the skirmish but did not require medical treatment.
John Alexander, a former Australian tennis player and a member of the Coalition, has called out the federal government for their action in a post on his Facebook account on Monday saying that the decision of the federal court should be respected and that based on the judge’s decisions, the tennis player does not seem to present an “unreasonable health risk to Australia.”
“The minister’s ‘personal powers to cancel visas’ are designed to prevent criminals otherwise walking our streets, or to prevent a contagious person otherwise walking our streets; they’re not designed to assist in dealing with a potential political problem of the day,” Alexander said. “What would be the ‘public interest’ the minister could potentially use to exercise his personal powers to deport our defending Australian Open tennis champion?”
“Retaining the Australian Open as a grand slam event I would argue is in our national interest,” he said.
There has been debate around the player’s eligibility to participate in the open after his medical exemption (pdf) relied on a COVID-19 positive test from Dec. 16 which is questioned after alleged images on social media showed the celebrity attending an award ceremony for children on Dec. 17, the day after he tested positive.
Djokovic’s family said in a press conference on Jan. 10 after the tennis player’s win, that they would “stand behind him.”
Djokovic’s younger brother and Serbian tennis player, Djordje Djokovic, told reporters that “it’s been a battle for all of us, it’s not just about Novak obviously. We’ve been defending him every possible way we could because we know he’s truthful… and he’ll never do anything to cross any federal or state law, anywhere around the world.”
“It’s been really tough on us to defend and still not offend anybody in this process. Because we don’t judge. We’re all human and everybody makes mistakes and that’s okay, we’re not gonna judge whoever or whatever they do, we’re just gonna keep going and fight for the truth and the justice,” Djordje Djokovic said.
However, when asked about the photos of the player attending a ceremony on Dec. 17, Djokovic’s brother immediately ended the press conference saying that it has been adjourned, leaving the question unanswered.
Djokovic later revealed on Jan. 12 in a statement on Instagram that he had attended a number of events in mid-December. While he tested negative to a rapid antigen test on Dec. 16—after attending an event two days earlier—he did test positive after participating in a tennis event on Dec. 17.
The Serbian star admitted it was an “error of judgement” to take part in the Dec. 17 event which also involved an interview and photoshoot.
Djokovic also said his agent “sincerely apologises” for the administrative mistake in ticking the wrong box on his previous travel to Australia.
“We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur,” he said.
Djokovic has begun practicing on court for the Open.