Tennis' number one player Novak Djokovoc was held for eight hours at Melbourne's international airport and later deported for not complying with Australian protocols regarding vaccination against COVID-19 for foreign travelers.
The Serbian Djokovic was to defend his Australian Open title, which he has won 9 timers altogether, including the last three consecutive editions.
The unvaccinated Djokovic had announced he would skip the first Grand Slam tournament of the year because he was not willing to change his stance regarding treatments and health passes. But he later changed his mind when he was given an exemption from the vaccination requirement by tournament organizers, due to medical reasons. But tournament organizers are one thing and immigration authorities are a totally different issue. Australia's border force later confirmed Djokovic's visa had been revoked.
Djokovic said he would file an injunction to prevent him being from being expelled from the country. According to press reports he was staying at a Melbourne quarantine hotel.
The tennis star arrived after a 14-hour flight from Dubai and was ushered into an isolation room under police guard when Australian officials said his visa did not allow for medical exemptions. But three other players had already arrived with the same set of documents, according to press reports.
The Djokovic case sparked a diplomatic rift between Canberra and Belgrade.
I've just finished my telephone conversation with Novak Djokovic, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic posted on Instagram. I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world's best tennis player is brought to an end immediately.
In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice. Novak is strong, as we all know, added Vucic after summoning Australia's ambassador to Belgrade and demanded that they immediately release Djokovic to play.
Mr Djokovic's visa has been cancelled, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted Thursday. Morrison said Djokovic was not welcome in Australia and will be deported. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from Covid, we are continuing to be vigilant.
There has been enormous backlash over the decision to grant Djokovic a medical exemption from vaccination to play at the Open, while Melbourne has endured the world's longest cumulative lockdown and an outbreak of the Omicron variant has sent case numbers to record levels.
Sources close to Djokovic quoted by Reuters have explained his legal challenge will be based on the fact that his temporary activity visa treats a person arriving with a valid medical exemption equally to one who is vaccinated. With just 11 days to go, the legal fight is expected to be decided upon hastily.
Tennis Australia and government officials had previously stressed that Djokovic received no preferential treatment to gain the medical exemption from a panel of health officials made up of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice. All exemptions met conditions set out by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The Australian government had previously pledged to honor the rules of the exemption process, but upon landing at Melbourne, Australia's Border Force claimed the player had applied for the wrong visa for a medical exemption.
Australian tennis great Rod Laver, after whom the main show court at Melbourne Park is named, warned that Djokovic might face hostility from local crowds, as 93% of them aged 12 or over are already vaccinated. I think it might get ugly, Laver said in an interview.