Novak Djokovic has reported visa issue while traveling to Australia
The entry of world number one Novak Djokovic to Australia has reportedly been delayed due to a paperwork issue, further fueling controversy over a Covid vaccine exemption granted to him by the organizers of the Australian Open. Djokovic, an outspoken vaccine skeptic, has been granted exemption in order to play at this month’s tournament in Melbourne, the first Grand Slam event of the year. The Serb landed in Melbourne on Wednesday evening, but state government officials have reportedly refused to support his visa application.
Victoria’s acting sports minister Jaala Pulford said her state had rejected a request for help and visa approvals were the responsibility of the federal government.
It was not clear why the state government would need to provide support.
But Australian media have said the nine-time Australian Open champion, who is a vaccine skeptic, may have applied for the wrong type of visa.
“The federal government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia,” Pulford said in a message on Twitter.
“We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual assistance with visa applications to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.”
The Australian newspaper said Djokovic was seeking to enter the country on a work visa which “required the support of the Victorian government”.
Melbourne’s The Age newspaper said the Federal Border Force contacted the Victorian government when they realized Djokovic’s team had applied for “the wrong kind of visa.”
The Age said Djokovic would likely be allowed to get off his plane and enter Melbourne, but the issue was delaying his entry.
The same newspaper reported that there was also a question mark as to whether Djokovic had the correct documentation to prove that he had been infected with Covid-19 in the past six months – which is suspected of be the reason given for its exemption.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said if the reasons for Djokovic’s exemption were “insufficient” then the Serb would be “on the next plane home”.
“There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic. None at all,” he said at a press conference.
Tournament chief Craig Tiley said the defending champion had received “no special favors” but urged him to reveal why he got the exemption to appease public anger.
Tiley said both panels assessed each exemption without knowing the identity of the claimant and that he did not know why Djokovic was given the green light, which is confidential.
“It will certainly be helpful for Novak to explain the conditions under which he requested and obtained an exemption,” Tiley told reporters, acknowledging the backlash.
“I encourage him to tell the community about this … we have been through a very difficult time over the past two years and we would appreciate any answers to that.”
All participants in the Australian Open, which begins on January 17, must be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a medical exemption, which is only granted after evaluation by two panels of independent experts.
Djokovic had announced Tuesday evening that he was on his way to Melbourne with “an exemption permit”.
The Australians reacted with fury on Wednesday after learning that organizers had granted Djokovic a waiver.
Former Australian ATP Tour player Sam Groth, now a TV commentator, said it was “a decision that spits in the face of every Victorian and Australian” in a column in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper.
Groth agreed that Djokovic should reveal why he was allowed in.
“You’re ready to say you have an exemption but not say why? That’s sick hypocrisy. I don’t like it at all,” Groth wrote.
There was also outrage in the streets of Melbourne.
“I think it’s disgusting. I think he should have made his decision before now and it shouldn’t be a last minute decision to bring him in,” resident Ron Wilson told AFP. .
Other residents of the city of Victoria state were more sympathetic, Morteza Yari saying: “I think as long as the exemption is valid and they have valid reasons, I don’t see a problem with it. “
Tournament host Tiley defended the integrity of the exemption request process, which is overseen by the national and Victorian state governments.
He revealed that only 26 of the estimated 3,000 players and support staff traveling to Australia for the tournament had requested a vaccine exemption. Only a few of them have been successful.
“Anyone who met those conditions was allowed in. There was no special favor. No special opportunity was given to Novak,” Tiley said.
Melbourne and Sydney have both suffered months of restrictions and lockdowns over the past two years and allowing Djokovic to travel has been widely criticized.
Djokovic expressed his opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine in April 2020 when it was suggested that they could be mandatory for the tournament to resume.
“Personally, I’m not pro-vaccine,” Djokovic said at the time. “I wouldn’t want someone forcing me to get the vaccine so I could travel.”
Meanwhile, Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic posted a photo on Instagram of himself and the Serbian’s other backstage staff, patiently waiting at Melbourne airport for a resolution.
“It’s not the most usual downward journey,” the former Wimbledon champion wrote.
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