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Novak Djokovic to be released from detention as Australian judge revokes visa cancellation

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Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates winning against Marin Cilic of Croatia in match 2 of the Davis Cup Semi Final at Madrid Arena on December 3, 2021.
Sanjin Strukic | Pixsell | MB Media | Getty Images

Tennis star Novak Djokovic has won his court battle in Australia after his visa was canceled due to his Covid-19 vaccination status ahead of the Australian Open.

Australian Federal Judge Anthony Kelly read out the ruling in an emergency virtual court hearing Monday. “The court will order as follows: Paragraph 1, the decision of the delegate to cancel the applicant’s temporary activity subclass 048 visa made on 6 January 2022, be quashed,” he said.

Djokovic fans who had gathered outside the hotel where the world tennis champion was detained burst into cheers and patriotic Serbian songs when the news was announced.

This means that Djokovic’s visa remains valid. He will be released from detention and will be given back his passport and other belongings confiscated at the time of detention.

The 34-year-old Serbian national was detained in an immigration facility last week after arriving in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open for what officials said violated the country’s strict entry rules that require visitors be vaccinated against Covid-19. Djokovic, a vocal vaccine skeptic aiming for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title, had his visa revoked and passport confiscated after customs officials decided he did not have sufficient medical justification for a vaccine exemption.

Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic rally outside the Park Hotel, where the star athlete is believed to be held while he stays in Australia, in Melbourne, Australia, January 6, 2022.
Loren Elliott | Reuters

Judge Kelly made points in Djokovic’s defense Monday, demanding to know what more the athlete could have done to meet Australia’s entry requirements. The government on Monday acknowledged that it did not give Djokovic and his team sufficient time to react after informing him of his visa cancellation.

But the saga is not over — Australia’s immigration minister can still personally step in and cancel his visa regardless on new grounds. If the minister, Alex Hawke, decides to take that action, Djokovic could be facing a renewed court fight and potentially up to a three-year ban on playing tennis in Australia.

The story has inflamed debate around vaccine requirements and put a spotlight on Australia’s strict Covid measures, which have seen Australians endure some of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world. While the case infuriated Djokovic fans in the country and around the world, many in Australia bristled at the idea of a millionaire tennis player being able to flout their country’s laws when no one else had been able to.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison came out in criticism of Djokovic, saying that “rules are rules.” But in a stroke of irony, Judge Kelly referred to that very statement in explaining his decision Monday: “We all play by the same rules. The reason why this minister for home affairs in this proceeding has agreed that the delegate’s decision [to cancel the visa] should be set aside is for the reasons set out in the notation. Stated in other terms: those rules were not observed.”

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