australia Australian Open Novak Djokovic

Djokovic’s ‘Public Interest’ Vaccine Deportation Decision Heralds End Of Sports Gods Era

January 14, 2022

ON THE SPOT: International major events advisor and commentator Michael Pirrie analyses the fall out and reasons behind the Australian Government’s bold decision to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second and possibly final time.

While Australian wickets were falling this afternoon in the last Ashes test cricket match of the series, Novak Djokovic’s tennis grand slam record bid was also smouldering among the ashes of the Federal Government’s decision to cancel the visa of world’s number one tennis player for a second time this week.

Djokovic’s legacy was also on fire amid the Australia-wide and international drama that has accompanied the tennis champion’s refusal to vaccinate, in defiance of local public health requirement for visitors to Australia, and many other nations.

Like the Hawkeye technology used to decide line ball court decisions, the Federal Court hearing that cancelled Djokovic’s original deportation order did not pass the scrutiny of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s eyes.

Nor did the Federal Court ruling that set Djokovic free from detention on Monday seem to pass the so-called “pub test” in Australia.

The Minister’s decision was greeted with strong and vocal support across the nation. While Djokovic believes he arrived with a valid visa, a series of unforced errors in recent days by Djokovic strengthened the case for deportation. These included mistakes in travel papers and uncertainties surrounding the processing and timing of his Covid 19 positive test results, on which the medical exemption was granted.

Djokovic celebrating winning the 2018 Wimbledon final.

The Australian community was increasingly sceptical of the use of medical exemption to enable the world’s highest profile anti vaccination figure in pursue his quest to secure sporting greatness at the Australian Open, which he has won on nine previous occasions.

Some residents called talk back radio to announce they had celebrated the Minister’s decision with champagne. The vaccine showdown in Australia has become a microcosm of many of the disputes and conflicts that still remain unresolved in many different parts of the world in sport and in society stemming from the pandemic.  

The Minister’s decision captured instant global headlines and has been at the centre of world news and sport in recent days, eclipsing the controversies surrounding the fate of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai and diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games.

This decision leaves his campaign to win a record 21st grand slam on the Melbourne Park Australian Open tennis courts in tatters, an arena where Djokovic has achieved some of his greatest victories and had been practicing ahead of the eagerly awaited decision.

Djokovic’s unvaccinated status has generated public outrage and growing concern amongst current and former tennis legends, including Martina Navratilova, critical of the the star’s disregard of vaccination for the common good and fellow colleagues.

The Minister reimposed the deportation order in “the public interest,” as the Covid crisis worsened across Australia in recent days.

This has resulted in record case numbers, deaths, empty supermarket shelves, food, worker and rapid antigen shortages, and transformation of hotels into temporary hospital wards to relieve pressure on intensive care wards filled with unvaccinated patients despite a high vaccine roll out programme.

Djokovic was tonight attempting to serve out the anti vaccination storm, still hoping to let his racquet speak for him on court at the Australian Open next week. His top flight legal team is expected to fight the Minister’s powers back in the Federal court with a directions hearing on Saturday. He has been spared detention while the final stages in this landmark battle between sovereignty and a global sport star is played out over the weekend.

We are now at the point where Djokovic is creating a massive distraction for the tennis world, overshadowing the remarkable run to this weekend’s Sydney Tennis Classic final by Andy Murray as the Scot looks to win his first tournament since 2019.

The multi millionaire sports star will continue to reside at the luxury mansion, complete with tennis court, that he and his team have been occupying in the inner eastern neighbourhood of Toorak, Melbourne’s most exclusive suburb of old money, the equivalent of London’s Mayfair or New York’s Upper West Side.

Team Djokovic is hoping for an injunction to enable him to remain in Australia long enough to compete in the tournament. He is fighting to overturn the deportation order, which carries carrying a possible three year ban from Australia, and would therefore shrink his grand slam opportunities of Djokovic.

If eliminated from the Australian Open, Djokovic could face visa difficulties at the next grand slam in Paris, with French President Macron increasingly concerned by the impact of the anti vaccination movement on vaccine uptake levels. Wimbledon and US Open are also hosted in cities and nations struggling against anti vaccination groups, for whom Djokovic has become a hero among celebrities.

The vaccine showdown in Australia has become a microcosm of many of the disputes and conflicts that still remain unresolved in many different parts of the world in sport and in society stemming from the pandemic. The landmark case and ruling of the Minister is the first of its kind and has sent shockwaves the world sport and major event organisers, sponsors and government agencies.

“The Australian Government said it based its decision on the grounds of health and good order of society.”

While Djokovic is regarded as a freedom fighter in his home country of Serbia where news of the new deportation order was greeted with extreme condemnation and criticism, the Australian Government said it based its decision on the grounds of health and good order of society.

The case was also having a negative impact on the order and state of sport in Australia and beyond, and is likely to result in much greater scrutiny of athletes travelling to events in cities and nations hosting major international events in the coming months.

It will also prompt a major review of the structure, skills and inter government relations within major event organising committees as lessons from the controversy are reviewed in the coming months.

Michael Pirrie is an international advisor and commentator on major events including the Olympic Games, Invictus Games, and other international projects.

australia Australian Open Novak Djokovic