Novak Djokovic is to be deported from Australia after losing appeal against cancellation of visa over Covid-19 coronavirus entry requirements.
The verdict means the world No 1 will not be allowed to defend his Australian Open title when the action gets underway on Monday, denying his bid, for a few months at least, of winning a men's record 21st Grand Slam.
Djokovic, 34, has won the Australian Open the past three years and was a strong favourite to claim a record-extending 10th Melbourne Park crown.
The top seed was set to face Miomir Kecmanovic in his opening match at Rod Laver Arena on Monday.
Ruling on a case that has gripped Australia and the sporting world for more than a week, a three-judge bench of the Federal Court heard government lawyers' arguments that Djokovic's continued presence risked whipping up anti-vaccination sentiment during Australia's worst outbreak of Covid-19 since the pandemic began.
Alex Hawke, the immigration minister, cancelled the visa on the grounds that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public and “may be counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others in Australia.”
For Djokovic, his lawyers said Hawke took an “unreasonable approach” to assessing whether his deportation was in the public interest and cited no evidence that his presence may foster anti-vaccination sentiment, according to a court filing. The only evidence of protests referring to Djokovic’s were caused by the state canceling his visa the first time, barrister Nick Wood said in the hearing Sunday.
“Rightly or wrongly he is perceived to endorse an anti-vaccination view and his presence here is perceived to contribute to that,” Stephen Lloyd, acting for the government, told the court.
The decision likely means that Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against Covid-19, will remain in detention in Melbourne until he is deported.
A deportation order usually also includes a three-year ban on returning to Australia.
A medical exemption that allowed the Serb to enter the country without being vaccinated had sparked fury in Australia, and became a political issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has to call a federal election before May.
An opinion poll published by The Age newspaper on Sunday showed almost three quarters of Australians believe Djokovic should be sent home without playing in the Australian Open. Just 14% said he should be allowed to stay, the poll of 1607 people showed.
Djokovic’s visa was initially cancelled on January 6 at Melbourne’s airport hours after he arrived to compete in the first Grand Slam of 2022.
A border official cancelled his visa after deciding Djokovic didn’t qualify for a medical exemption from Australia’s rules for unvaccinated visitors.
After spending four days in an immigration detention centre, Djokovic, 34, won his appeal after the court quashed the revocation before it was cancelled a second time on Friday.