Australian Open chief blames 'contradictory information' for Novak Djokovic visa saga

In his first interview since the world No 1 was detained on arrival, Craig Tiley says the tournament and officials are operating in a 'challenging evironment'

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Australian Open chief Craig Tiley said on Sunday that “contradictory information” and quickly changing directives are to blame for the confusion that led to Novak Djokovic being refused entry to Australia on a medical exemption.

Tiley refused to apportion blame for the saga over Djokovic's exemption from the mandate that people entering the country be vaccinated against coronavirus.

He said Tennis Australia had engaged in discussions with federal and Victoria state officials for several months to ensure the safe passage of players into the country.

Djokovic has spent four days in immigration detention in a Melbourne hotel ahead of his appeal against a removal order issued by the Australian Border Force on Thursday morning.

In a court filing on Saturday, his lawyers argued that he had been given a medical exemption as he had contracted and recovered from a Covid-19 infection detected on December 16.

“We are not going to lay the blame at anyone,” Tiley told Channel 9, which holds the domestic broadcast rights to the Australian Open, on Sunday.

“All I can say is that, primarily because there is [so] much contradictory information the whole time, every single week we were talking to Home Affairs, we were talking to all parts of government to ensure that one, we were doing the right thing, and the right process with these exemptions.

“The conflicting information, and the contradictory information we received, was because of the changing environment. We are in a challenging environment.”

The court hearing on Djokovic's case is set to begin at 10am local time on Monday after the Australian government's bid for a delay until Wednesday was rejected by the court.

The nine-time Australian Open champion is seeking to win his 21st Grand Slam title at the tournament, which starts on January 17.

Craig Tiley alongside Novak Djokovic after the 2021 Australian Open. AP

Tiley, who is Australian Open tournament director as well as chief executive of Tennis Australia, reiterated that neither body had wittingly passed incorrect information to players seeking to play in Melbourne using a medical exemption.

“All information we had at the time, the knowledge we had at the time, was supplied to players,” he said. “There was always going to be a handful of people … that require for medical reasons exemptions. We worked closely with the Victorian Government to ensure it was actually two medical panels, two processes that … a small handful had to go through to be exempt.”

It was Tiley's first interview since Djokovic was detained at Melbourne Airport on Wednesday night, a development the South African said had shocked him.

Tiley had previously addressed Tennis Australia staff in a video that was subsequently leaked. In it, he acknowledged it was a difficult time for all at the organisation while expressing sympathy for the situation Djokovic found himself in.

“I would like to see him play the Australian Open, yes,” Tiley said.

Updated: January 10, 2022, 11:00 AM