Novak Djokovic granted exemption for Australian Open after recent Covid, lawyers claim

Defending champion awaits verdict of Monday's appeal after being detained in Melbourne hotel since Thursday

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Novak Djokovic's legal challenge to the Australian government's decision to cancel his visa is based on the fact he recently recovered from Covid-19, with the filings made on his behalf claiming this allowed him to qualify for a medical exemption from the country's vaccination rules.

A 35-page document lodged in the Federal Circuit and Family Court by Djokovic's legal team on Saturday outlines the Serbian's case for challenging the visa cancellation which would prevent him from playing in the Australian Open, where he is the defending and record nine-time champion. The challenge will be heard in court on Monday morning.

The world No 1 has been held in immigration detention in a hotel in Melbourne since Thursday morning after border officials rejected his claim for a medical exemption.

The filing shows Djokovic said he had received a letter from Tennis Australia's Chief Medical Officer on December 30 stating he had a medical exemption from vaccination on the basis that he had recently recovered from a Coviid infection.

The documents show he had tested positive on December 16, and by December 30 had been free of symptoms or fever in the previous 72 hours.

The application said he had a valid visa to travel and also received an assessment from the Department of Home Affairs stating “responses indicate(d) that (he met) the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival into Australia where permitted by the jurisdiction of your arrival”, with Victoria the nominated jurisdiction.

The legal documents state that early on Thursday morning, after being informed at Melbourne Airport his visa would be rescinded, a confused Djokovic pleaded to be given time to be able to contact Tennis Australia and his agent.

But he said he was “pressured” by authorities to agree to an interview shortly after 6am, despite accepting an earlier offer than he could rest until 8.30am and saying he “wanted some help and legal support and advice from representatives”, who were still sleeping at the early hour.

The application says Djokovic, who has publicly opposed mandatory vaccinations against Covid-19, challenged an official at the airport when told a recent infection was not considered a substitute for a vaccine in Australia.

“That's not true, and I told him what the Independent State Government medical panel had said and I explained why. I then referred to the two medical panels and the Travel Declaration,” the legal filing quotes Djokovic as saying.

Djokovic wins 2021 Australian Open title

“I explained that I had been recently infected with Covid in December 2021 and, on this basis, I was entitled to a medical exemption in accordance with Australian Government rules and guidance.”

The 34-year-old Serb said he had provided his medical evidence to Tennis Australia for its two-stage independent assessment process, had made his travel declarations correctly and satisfied all requirements to legally enter Australia on his approved visa.

Among the arguments his lawyers raised was a section from the Australian Immunisation Register which states a person can apply for a temporary vaccine exemption due to a recent “acute major medical illness".

Djokovic's legal team said that, among a series of what it says are jurisdictional errors, a delegate for the minister for home affairs did not have “a skerrick of evidence”, using an Australian term for a tiny amount to suggest the 20-time major champion's recent infection did not constitute a contraindication.

Tennis Australia's chief medical officer, Dr Carolyn Broderick, was one of three medical practitioners on a panel that approved an exemption consistent with guidelines outlined by Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, the filing says.

The document says the first decision was then assessed by a second independent medical panel set up by the Victorian state government, consistent with the process that has been outlined publicly by Tennis Australia.

Djokovic was not the only player detained in the Melbourne hotel after having their visa revoked, with Czech Republic's Renata Voracova having faced a similar situation.

Voracova also entered Australia claiming a medical exemption, and like Djokovic, she ended up in detention after Australian border authorities determined she had not in fact met entry requirements.

However, the 38-year-old doubles specialist decided to leave on Saturday, telling Czech news site idnes.cz she would not challenge because of the time it would take to wait and not train ahead of the Australian Open later this month.

"Voracova left Australia on Saturday based on her own decision to end her participation in the tournament due to complications with her visas," the Czech Foreign Ministry said. "The decision was not based on her expulsion from the country."

Updated: January 10, 2022, 11:01 AM
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