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Australia rushes to file defence of Djokovic ban as court battle looms

Australia rushes to file defence of Djokovic ban as court battle looms
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MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian authorities on Sunday rushed to present a legal defense of their decision to bar world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic from being vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, as the Serbian star spent his fourth day in an immigration detention center. .

Djokovic had been hoping to win his 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, starting next week, but instead of training he was confined to a hotel used to accommodate asylum seekers. He is contesting the decision to cancel his visa after he was stopped on arrival at Melbourne airport early Thursday.

Djokovic, an outspoken opponent of vaccine mandates, has refused to disclose the vaccination status or reason for seeking medical exemption from Australia’s vaccine rules. He broke his silence on Saturday with a legal challenge in which he said he was granted relief and recovery from the virus in December.

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The Melbourne drama has rocked global tennis, caused tensions between Serbia and Australia and became a flashpoint for opponents of vaccine mandates around the world.

Australia says the Department of Health notified the tournament’s organizing body, Tennis Australia, in November that the recent infection with the new coronavirus was not necessarily the basis for an exemption in the country, as it is elsewhere. Djokovic’s lawsuit says the Ministry of Internal Affairs wrote to him this month to say he met the requirements to enter the country.

Tennis Australia’s chief executive, Craig Tilly, said in his first media interview since the uproar began that his organization had been speaking with state and federal officials for several months to ensure safe passage for players.

“Primarily because there was a lot of contradictory information all the time, and every week we were talking to internal affairs, we were talking to all parts of the government to ensure … that we were doing the right thing and (following)” Tilly told Channel Nine TV.

“The conflicting information we received was due to the changing environment. We are in a challenging environment.”

A representative of the court told Reuters that the Ministry of Interior, which was due to present its defense on Sunday, had requested to postpone the case hearing from Monday to Wednesday. The request was denied, based on a ruling on the Federal Court’s website.

The Federal Circuit and Family Court have ruled that Djokovic’s lawyers have up to two hours to present their case from 10 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Monday, while the state department has two hours to present its defense from 3 p.m.

An internal affairs spokesperson could not be reached for comment on her legal defense.

Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic gather outside the Park Hotel, where the sports star is believed to be taking place during his stay in Australia, in Melbourne, Australia, January 9, 2022. REUTERS / Lauren Elliott

Spotlight on refugees

Health Secretary Greg Hunt, when asked about the uproar at a media conference on Sunday, declined to comment since it was brought to court, but noted the visas of many people involved in the tournament had been revoked.

Asked about this on Channel Nine TV, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said without referring directly to Djokovic that “there is a clear difference between visas and entry requirements” and “entry requirements…sitting above visa conditions”.

Czech player Renata Vorakova, who was held in the same detention hotel with Djokovic and had her visa revoked after problems with her vaccination exemption, left the country without challenging her status, the Czech Foreign Ministry said.

Djokovic’s situation drew an unexpected crowd to the unassuming Melbourne hotel, which until this month was made famous by media reports of asylum seekers claiming to have received food containing larvae.

Anti-vaccine protesters, pro-refugees and Djokovic fans gathered outside the police-guarded building.

“We regret that he has been arrested, but we ask you: Why does it require the presence of a celebrity to draw attention to our plight?” Bangladeshi refugee Muhammad Joy Miah, who has been working at the facility since 2020, said Bangladesh.

With hotel windows not open, Maah delivered his speech over the phone, which a supporter displayed over a loudspeaker at a protest outside the facility on Sunday.

The Ministry of the Interior was not immediately available to respond to Waters’ comments.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Djokovic was given gluten-free food, exercise kits and a SIM card to keep in touch with the outside world.

“It is a positive tone from the Australian side. The Serbian government is ready to provide all necessary guarantees to allow Novak to enter Australia, and the Serbian president is also involved,” Brnabic said.

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Additional reporting by Courtney Walsh in Melbourne and Byron Kay in Sydney; Editing by Paul Simao, William Mallard and Anna Nicolasi da Costa

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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