On Sunday, January 16, less than 24 hours before the Australian Open was scheduled to begin, the Federal Court of Australia unanimously upheld Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke’s decision to cancel professional tennis player Novak Djokovic’s visa, because he has refused the COVID vaccine.
Celebrating Australia’s decision, Hawke issued a statement arguing that “Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe from the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world.”
While Australia’s death rate remains low and its vaccination rate is relatively high, the strongest economic recovery claim is disputable as its GDP has shrunk 0.2% since the end of 2019, while the U.S.’s GDP has grown 1.4% over the same time frame. Australia has also reported 105,617 average daily cases, which is higher per capita than the U.S. with its current all-time high number of cases and a record-high spike in hospitalizations, despite its restrictive measures.
The Federal Court’s affirmation of Djokovic’s deportation will have major consequences. Djokovic, the current world no. 1 in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings, will not be able to defend his Australian Open title. Moreover, he will have to wait until at least May 22 to start his campaign for a 21st Grand Slam title at Roland Garros (the lone clay court Grand Slam) and separate himself from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the all-time Grand Slam title leaderboard (assuming Nadal doesn’t win the Australian Open this year).
Given France’s new vaccine passport law that passed 215-58, however, Djokovic is unlikely to even be able to play at Roland Garros unless the situation changes within the next 4 months. Meanwhile, Australia’s decision could bar Djokovic from the country for the next 3 years under Section 133C(3) of the Migration Act of 1958, which would mean he would be 37 years old by the time he can again compete at the event where he has won a record nine times.
This whole saga began with Djokovic announcing on January 4 that Tennis Australia granted him a medical exemption from the COVID vaccine, putatively allowing him to go to Australia to compete in the Australian Open. The following day, the Australian Border Force (ABF) detained him for four days at Park Hotel in Melbourne, during Orthodox Christmas (January 7).
Djokovic has made his opinion on vaccines publicly known, stating as early as April 2020 that he “wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine” in order to travel or compete in tournaments. He explained that he is not vaccinated for COVID in an interview between himself and an officer at the Department of Home Affairs, which was released on January 10 by the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne shortly before his initial trial with that same court. Thus, the Australian government canceled Djokovic’s visa on the grounds that he didn’t get the COVID vaccine.
The initial trial led to a reversal of the Australian government’s decision, making it appear that Djokovic would be cleared to defend his title. However, on Friday, January 14, Hawke once again canceled Djokovic’s visa, this time “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.” To clarify this point, Hawke admitted that Djokovic was not a threat to public health but instead stated that “Djokovic’s presence in Australia may pose a health risk to the Australian community in that his presence in Australia may foster anti-vaccination sentiment.”
As a result of Djokovic’s deportation, 2021 US Open Champion Daniil Medvedev will be the highest ranked player in the men’s singles draw and he is the new favorite to win his second Grand Slam title. World No. 150 Salvatore Caruso will replace Djokovic in his first round matchup, as Caruso is the lucky loser randomly drawn from the four highest ranking players who lost in the third and final round of qualifying to enter the main men’s singles draw. He will face Djokovic’s compatriot Miomir Kecmanović.