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Why Australia says Djokovic has got to go

Published Jan 16, 2022 9:56 am

Australia's government says unvaccinated Novak Djokovic poses a "negligible risk" of infecting people with COVID-19.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke says he is even happy to assume the 34-year-old tennis ace has entered Australia in line with vaccination guidelines.

He does not argue that Djokovic, who says he caught COVID-19 last month, has a medical reason for not being vaccinated, and concedes that he is a "person of good standing and is known for his philanthropic efforts."

So why does Hawke say he cancelled Djokovic's visa

And why does he want to deport the world's number one men's tennis player—days before the Australian Open starts Monday, Jan. 17 (Philippine time)?

Here are the key reasons the minister gave in a written document released by the Federal Court hearing on Djokovic's appeal:

Anti-vaccine sentiment

Djokovic's presence in Australia "may foster anti-vaccination sentiment," Hawke said, adding that the player had publicly voiced his opposition to being vaccinated.

This could sway others into not getting vaccinated, or not getting booster shots, he argued.

Disregard for COVID rules

Djokovic has admitted to an "error of judgment" in meeting with a journalist from French sports paper L'Equipe two days after a positive COVID-19 test recorded on Dec. 16.

If he stays in Australia, the tennis ace may "foster similar disregard" for COVID-19 safety guidelines after a positive test result, Hawke said.

Risk to good order

As a role model, Djokovic's failure to abide by public health measures and unvaccinated status could undermine Australia's management of the pandemic, Hawke said.

Not only could it encourage people to flout health rules, but it could also lead to "civil unrest," he said.

The immigration minister cited "rallies and protests" that have already taken place in Australia "which may themselves be a source of community transmission."

False travel declaration

A statement on Djokovic's Australian declaration falsely said he would not travel in the 14 days before he flew to Melbourne, arriving late on Jan. 5.

In fact, he travelled from Serbia to Spain in that period. 

Djokovic said the error was committed by his agent, who has admitted to the government that she was to blame.

Hawke said he assumes Djokovic did not break the law given his agent's admission, but that nevertheless he "should have been careful" with such an important document.

In any case, the minister said he did not consider it to be a major factor, and he would have made the same decision even if he had not taken the declaration into account.

Bottom line

Cancelling the visa would likely cause Djokovic and his family "emotional hardship and distress," hurt his reputation and finances, and prevent him from competing in the Australian Open, Hawke said.

But this was outweighed by the risks the government believes he poses to Australia's COVID-19 battle, the minister said.

These risks concern "the very preservation of life and health" of many Australians, Hawke said, at a time when the health system is under "increasing strain" from the pandemic. (AFP)