Sun, 22 May 2022

A court hearing for Novak Djokovic's appeal against deportation has ended in Australia's Federal Court, and a verdict is expected within hours.

The decision on whether 34-year-old Serbian tennis star, who is unvaccinated against COVID-19, will be allowed to stay in Melbourne and compete in the Australian Open now lies in the hands of a three-judge panel that heard his appeal of the cancellation of his visa.

Djokovic left a detention hotel earlier on January 16 and joined his lawyers for the hearing. His lawyers told the panel that the government's effort to deport him on the eve of the Australian Open was 'irrational' and 'unreasonable.'

The world No. 1 and defending champion is still scheduled to play in the tournament, which starts on January 17, but the wrangling in the court of law has left his chances of actually being able to compete on the tennis court up in the air.

If he wins his court challenge, he will play for his 21st Grand Slam singles title, which would set a record. Djokovic is currently tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles each.

Justice David O'Callaghan said the judge's decision would be final.

The player's challenge was moved to a higher court after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke blocked his visa, which was originally revoked when he landed at a Melbourne airport last week, touching off a saga that has angered the Serb government and many Serbians.

A judge on January 10 reinstated his visa on procedural grounds after it was revoked the first time, but Hawke on January 14 said that he was using his discretionary powers on visa issues to cancel Djokovic's visa "on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so."

The minister said Djokovic's continued presence in the country could 'foster anti-vaccination sentiment' and even spark an 'increase in civil unrest.'

Hawke admitted that Djokovic is at 'negligible' risk of infecting Australians but argued his past 'disregard' for COVID-19 regulations may pose a risk to public health and discourage people from getting boosters just as the country experiences an increase in omicron infections.

The player was granted a medical exemption on the grounds that he contracted COVID-19 in mid-December. But according to his own account, he failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.

Djokovic's cause was not helped by a mistake on his entry declaration on which a box was ticked stating he had not traveled abroad in the two weeks before arriving in Australia. In fact, he had traveled between Spain and Serbia.

Some players have lamented that the controversy has overshadowed the buildup to the year's first Grand Slam event.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and BBC

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036

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