It took only two shots to knock out the defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic after a lack of inoculation triggered the tennis star’s deportation to Serbia.

Summary of the Saga

The Australian Open held in January is one of the most prestigious Grand Slam tennis tournaments with history spanning well beyond a century. Yet, the 2022 edition, in particular, markedly stood out after the reigning winner Novak Djokovic was controversially forced out of the country due to visa-related immigration issues and failure to comply with the adequate regulations for entering the state.

The Serb arrived on 5 January in Melbourne, declaring himself vaccine exempt the day before, a statement the Australian authorities termed incompatible with Djokovic’s visa type. Hence, after being stranded on the airport for nine-hour interrogations, Nole was detained in a special quarantine hotel and precluded from playing in the headline event. Eventually, after the series of fluctuating legal proceedings we inspect below, the world number one was deported 11 days later.

Law’s Stance on the Issue

Australia has topped the charts as one of the countries with the strictest travel and inner-state Covid-19 regimes, plus sizeable vaccine distribution (over 77% of its population at the time was fully vaccinated). Taking part in this major sporting competition was inextricably interlinked with health and safety regulations necessitating arrivals in the country to present evidence of a completed vaccination course under s.5(3)(a)(i) of the Biosecurity (Entry Requirements – Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) Determination 2021, which was subsequently repealed on 23 January 2022. In any case, a separate primary legislation authority – the Biosecurity Act 2015 details that Djokovic’s team ought to have presented ‘evidence that the individual has received a specified vaccination or other prophylaxis within a specified previous period’ as detailed in s.44(6)(a)(ii).

Initially, Djokovic’s solicitors submitted that the tennis star had tested positive for coronavirus on 16 December 2021, a serve returned by the government’s counter-move that Djokovic had not even been granted permission to enter the country. Reportedly, Tennis Australia and the state of Victoria had technically licensed Djokovic to partake in the Australian Open unvaccinated. Nevertheless, the border forces insisted that this served as no ground to avoiding vaccinations on the justification that it was a medical exemption and consequently a law suit took place.

Initially, Djokovic aced the inaugural visa cancellation appeal as Judge Anthony Kelly issued an order for the state to reimburse and emancipate Djokovic. Celebrations were transient for ‘the Djoker’ as less than 72 hours later the Australian government had the last laugh with the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke exercising his power to reinstate the visa termination. Chief Justice James Allsop remarked that Djokovic’s presence ‘may encourage rallies and protests that may lead to heightened community transmission’. Indeed, an infuriated crowd of the local Serbian diaspora emerged as a constant in front of Djokovic’s quarantine hotel and Djokovic’s publicised anti-vaxxer stance (which his lawyers argued principally originated in pre-pandemic times) escalated tension even further.

The Aftermath

Australian policies provide travelling exemptions to, for example, escorts of minor citizens and international students returning to intern in hospitals, amongst others. Djokovic now faces a ban to enter Oz for up to three years, although the Australian PM Scott Morrison has hinted that this may be relaxed in duration.    

In terms of the financial ramifications of the rigmarole, Djokovic will be unable to enter the bid for the title’s $2.1 million USD, whereas Tennis Australia is expected to pay $250,000 AUD to the government and another such sum to Djokovic and his legal team for court expenses. 

This precedent has compelled French confirmation of the requirement for sportspeople to be vaccinated, and given the USA’s share of Australia’s rigidness in travelling, Wimbledon may remain the only Grand Slam tournament Djokovic will participate in, unless he alters his views on vaccination.