Fri, 19 Aug 2022

A legal reckoning is due in the Novak Djokovic saga - but what exactly happens if the immigration hammer falls on the Serbian star?

Australia's Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is expected to announce his determination in the ongoing Novak Djokovic visa scandal imminently. We look at the big questions if Australia tries to show the Serbian star the exit again.

How did we get here?

It has certainly been a circuitous route. The details have been published ad nauseam in the global press in recent days so we won't get into too much detail once more, but the row stems from Djokovic's request to enter ahead of this month's Australian Open as an unvaccinated individual.

The country's immigration guidelines require all foreign visitors to be double-vaccinated against Covid-19, or for a sufficient medical exemption to be supplied. Djokovic received clearance from local Victoria authorities and Tennis Australia, but wasn't cleared by immigration officers when he arrived in Melbourne last week and was subsequently detained by the Australian Border Force.

Djokovic id Down Under - but for how much longer? � Getty Images

A Monday hearing concluded that Djokovic wasn't afforded the necessary time to challenge the move, prompting a judge to grant him permission to stay, but the matter is under further review at the highest level of Australia's immigration hierarchy who retain the right to deport him from the country, and even ban him from returning for up to three years.

Further details have since come to light which revealed that there was an error on Djokovic's Australian travel declaration - which was explained as unintentional and was completed by an agent on Djokovic's behalf - regarding his movements before he entered the country.

Also, Djokovic didn't immediately self-isolate back in Serbia after testing positive for Covid on December 16.

How might things play out?

Djokovic, his fans and his legal team are hoping that Australia's Immigration Minister Alex Hawke will seek to draw a line through the issue and rubber stamp his visa, affording the Serb an opportunity for what would be a fourth consecutive Australian Open title and a record 21st Grand Slam win.

That would certainly be the path of least resistance. The other option, should it be taken, would ignite more international headlines and would be arguably the biggest scandal in Australian sporting history. It would see Hawke overrule any prior judgements and deny Djokovic a visa to be in Australia, essentially mandating his immediate removal from the country. According to the Australian Open media, that could happen on Friday.

Immigration Minister Hawke will be a key figure in the saga. � Getty Images

As noted, it is also within the realm of legal theory that arguably the finest tennis player of his era could be barred from not just defending his crown this year, but from doing so in any of the next three Australian Opens if the the maximum punishment is levied for falsifying information on a visa application - although some have noted that would go even beyond the nuclear option of kicking Djokovic out.

What would Djokovic do next?

Reports have indicated that Djokovic's team of lawyers would immediately launch an appeal if Hawke's determination is not to their liking. They are also said to be hopeful of minimizing the written and oral elements of the case to their bare bones in the aim of ensuring a final conclusion could be delivered by Sunday, in time for the start of the Australian Open on Monday.

There have also been reports that Djokovic's legal team are fearful of prolonged legal red tape which would in effect make it impossible for a conclusion to the case to be reached before the beginning of the Melbourne showpiece. It remains unclear how Tennis Australia would proceed under this scenario.

Djokovic is due to begin the defense of his crown against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic next week.

What do Australians and Djokovic's fellow professionals think?

To put it mildly, the issue has been a divisive one. In the player's home country of Serbia, the row has reached the highest levels of government with President Aleksandar Vucic telling Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in no uncertain terms that he feels the treatment against Djokovic is unconscionable.

This reaction has been matched by several of Djokovic's family members, who have held press conferences bemoaning the episode and the conditions of the detention hotel he was being held in until recently.

In Australia, though, the opposite opinion has been seen. Some citizens Down Under have been vocal in their opposition of Djokovic - largely due to a feeling that the Covid restrictions they have been subjected to for much of the past two years don't appear to apply to people of Djokovic's professional stature. This feeling is also amplified by the perception of him being anti-vaccination in a country in which nearly 80% of the population have received two jabs.

Notably, though, Australia's Serbian population has been among those to mobilize in support of Djokovic. The star's fans gathered outside the detention hotel he was held in and also clashed with police after Monday's court verdict.

Many of Djokovic's fellow professionals have kept their counsel or offered nuanced views. Rafael Nadal suggested Djokovic knew the potential consequences of not being vaccinated.

Meanwhile, former three-time Australian Open champion Martina Navratilova recently stated that she feels it would be appropriate for Djokovic to walk away.

"The best thing for Novak to do I think would be just say 'you know what, there are too many mistakes, this is not OK and the right thing to do is just to go home," she said. "It's just the right thing to do, but I don't think he will do that because he wants that 21st title."

Have we had any clues about the decision on Djokovic?

While there hasn't been any official word as to Djokovic's impending fate, the omens certainly aren't looking good after Prime Minister Morrison appeared to hint on Thursday that his government is leaning towards booting Djokovic out of the country.

Morrison told the press that the final decision rests with Immigration Minister Hawke and while he was unsure how that would fall, he said that expected him "to implement the policy of the government."

"These are personal ministerial powers able to be exercised by Minister Alex Hawke and I don't propose to make any further comment at this time," he added at a televised media conference.

The delay in announcing a judgement, according to Hawke's office, was the sheer volume of evidence supplied by Djokovic and his team which they say "will affect the time frame for a decision".

But the statements from the government and Prime Minister Morrison specifically certainly don't read well from a Djokovic perspective.

"If you're not a citizen or resident, the health rules we have in place to protect our borders and our border protection policies have been central to the government's achievements when it comes and Australia's achievements generally inhabit one of the lowest death rates, strongest economies and highest vaccination rate in the country," Morrison said.

The suggestion as far as Aussie officials are concerned seems to be clear: if you're not double-jabbed, it's your own double-fault.


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