Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has discussed tennis player Novak Djokovic's visa situation with his Serbian counterpart, Ana Brnabic, as the unvaccinated world No. 1 faces the threat of deportation despite winning a court battle to compete in the upcoming Australian Open.
Morrison's office said the two heads of government agreed in their telephone conversation to keep in touch over the 34-year-old Serbian player’s disputed visa.
“The PM explained our nondiscriminatory border policy and its role in protecting Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Morrison’s office said in a statement. “They both agreed to stay in contact on the issue.”
Serbian public television RTS reported that Brnabic asked Morrison to ensure the tennis star was treated with dignity.
“The (Serbian) prime minister specifically emphasized the importance of the conditions for training and physical preparation for the upcoming competition, considering that Novak Djokovic was not allowed to train in recent days, and the tournament in Melbourne starts this weekend,” RTS reported.
The nine-time Australian Open defending champion meanwhile swapped the court of law for a tennis court within hours of being released from a quarantine hotel in Melbourne as he seeks to make up for lost training time ahead of the tournament that starts on January 17.
On January 10, an Australian judge reinstated Djokovic's visa, which had been canceled last week because the unvaccinated Serb player was said to have violated Australia's strict COVID-19 requirements.
He had been given a medical exemption by Tennis Australia, the tournament organizer, from its vaccination rules to compete because he was infected with COVID-19 last month.
Though the court ruled that the visa should still be valid because of technical reasons surrounding Djokovic's ability during the incident to speak with counsel and tournament organizers, it did not touch on the subject of whether the reason for his exemption was valid.
Speculation has swirled over the tennis star's documentation showing he tested positive for COVID-19 on December 16 in view of public appearances he made -- while not wearing a mask or taking social distancing precautions -- after the test date. According to Serbian law, a person who tests positive must immediately quarantine for 14 days.
Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has warned that he is considering exercising his executive power to deport Djokovic under separate legislation.
“The minister is currently considering the matter and the process remains ongoing,” Hawke’s office said in a statement.
Since Djokovic’s visa was canceled, Czech tennis player Renata Voracova and an unnamed European tennis official have been deported for similar reasons.
The dispute has added pressure on Morrison's government for his handling of the omicron variant wave in an election year, and prompted accusations of incompetence by the opposition.
The Australian opposition home affairs spokesperson, Kristina Keneally, blamed the dispute on a lack of planning by the government, which she said should have been clear about Djokovic's situation when it initially granted him the visa.
“If (he) gets deported it does incredible damage to Australia. If he gets to stay it does incredible damage to our tough border laws and is a real insult to the Australians who did the hard work of lockdowns and vaccination,” Keneally told Australian television.
Keneally said the Djokovic saga made Australia “look like a bit of a joke” on the world stage.