Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has arrived in Melbourne to defend his Australian Open crown as a late night visa bungle erupted, amid mounting pressure to explain the reasons behind his controversial vaccine exemption.
The world number one touched down on a Emirates flight from Dubai shortly after 11pm Wednesday night AEST, just 24 hours after confirmation of his quest to become the greatest men’s player of all time.
His declaration to the world that he was on his way to Australia sparked an outpouring of anger on a day Victoria recorded 17,636 cases, a new record for daily infections.
The exemption has sparked widespread uproar across Australia as tennis great Rod Laver called on Djokovic to ‘own up’ to the reason for his exemption or face hostility from spectators.
But a late night visa bungle has left his entry into Victoria in doubt, after it emerged his team had submitted an application for the wrong type of visa.
Federal Border Force officials contacted the Victorian government late on Wednesday night to ask it to formally support the visa application, which is needed to allow him to ‘work’ at the Open.
Sources claimed Djokovic entered Australia on a visa that doesn’t permit medical exemptions for being unvaccinated, The Age reported.
Acting sports minister Jaala Pulford said the state government would not support the application.
Novak Djokovic was caught up in a late night visa bungle as he touched down in Melbourne
‘The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia,’ she tweeted.
‘We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.
‘We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions a matter for doctors.’
Djokovic will likely be allowed off the plane and into Melbourne as the saga continued into the early hours of Thursday morning.
It was revealed hours earlier the Acting Australian Border Force Commissioner was examining an ‘issue’ with Djokovic’s Australian Travel Declaration as Scott Morrison warned the tennis star will receive no special treatment.
‘If that evidence is insufficient, then he will be treated no different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home,’ Mr Morrison said.
Australian tennis great Rod Laver believes Djokovic owes everyone an explanation.
‘If he’s got a reason for (the exemption) then … we should know it,’ he told News Corp.
Acting sports minister Jaala Pulford announced late Wednesday night that the Victorian government would not support the visa application submitted
Novak Djokovic (right with wife Jelena) has arrived in Australia to defend his Australian Open crown but must provide evidence to support his vaccination exemption
‘Yes, you’re a great player and you’ve performed and won so many tournaments, so, it can’t be physical. So what is the problem?’
If he doesn’t, Djokovic should expect hostility from fans every time he walks onto the court in a city which has spent than 260 days in lockdown since early 2020.
‘I think it might get ugly,’ Laver said.
‘I would think the Victorian people would be thinking ‘yes I would love to see him play and compete but at the same time, there’s a right way and a wrong way’.’
Currently, everyone entering Australia – even its own citizens – must be fully-vaccinated against Covid or face two weeks in hotel quarantine.
‘My view is that any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,’ Mr Morrison said on Wednesday afternoon.
‘Now Novak Djokovic, when he arrives in Australia, he has to if he’s not vaccinated, must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully-vaccinated travellers.
Scott Morrison (pictured on Wednesday) insists Novak Djokovic will receive no special treatment upon arrival in Melbourne if he can’t provide evidence to support his exemption
‘So we await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that.
‘If that evidence is insufficient, then he will be treated no different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home.
‘There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.’
He added that any exemption given to Djokovic will still have to stack up upon arrival in Australia.
‘There are other cases — there are quite a number over the last couple of years — where people have had these exemptions and have the suitable proof to support their claim in those circumstances,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘So the circumstance is not unique. The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for the exemption.’
A short time earlier, Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews warned border officials could step in.
‘While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border,’ she said.
‘Since 15 December 2021 fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption, and enter eligible states and territories quarantine free.
‘If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travellers.
‘Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our strict border requirements.
‘No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment.
‘Quarantine requirements for international arrivals in Victoria, including for non-vaccinated individuals, are a matter for the Victorian government.’
The debate continued on The Project, where the panelists suggesting there was a lot more to the story.
Co-host Lisa Wilkinson didn’t mince her words as she slammed Djokovic.
‘The problem is, no-one cared, today. I think everyone knows someone who’s really ‘suffered through COVID, if not many, many, many people,’ Wilkinson said.
‘We know people who’ve lost loved ones, who weren’t there to say goodbye to them.
‘And in the end, people are just sick of superstars being given special treatment. And that’s the category that this looked to fall into.
‘And it probably didn’t help, Novak, that you were lacking a bit of grace in your announcement of the whole thing. It was all a bit, ‘Let’s go!’
They also wondered whether Djokovic had a legitimate reason
‘One of the reasons, as I understand it, that you can get an exemption under ATAGI rules is if you’ve had COVID within the last six months,’ co-host Hamish McDonald explained.
Peter Helliar added: ‘He did pull out of a tournament in Indianapolis not that long ago, I think.’
Former Australian tennis star Sam Groth, who’s currently recovering from Covid-19, described Djokovic’s ‘brazen’ exemption as a decision that ‘spits in the face of every Victorian and Australian’ in a strongly-worded column for News Corp.
‘Just look at the s*** storm he’s created. It’s disrespectful to everyone that has endured the hell of the last two years.
‘He was here last year lifting the trophy and paying tribute to what Victorians in particular had endured. He played in empty stadiums during the snap lockdown. His announcement on Tuesday was tone deaf. He should know better.’
Novak Djokovic (with wife Jelena) will be sent on the first plane home if he can’t provide evidence to support his vaccination exemption
Groth also accused Djokovic of hiding behind an exemption without explanation.
‘I still think Djokovic is one of the greatest ever but with greatness comes expectation and he fails every time. He is failing his peers and laughing in the face of Victorians,’ he wrote.
‘Maybe he will come and do a press conference and tell us what we want to know, but based on his track record, I’m not holding my breath.’
The grounds for Djokovic’s exemption under the ATAGI guidelines have remained private.
Djokovic, a Australian Open nine-time champion has refused to reveal his vaccination status, declaring it a private matter – and has previously voiced his displeasure against ‘forced’ jabs.
Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said the independent panel consisted of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice and all exemptions met conditions set out by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
‘We completely understand and empathise with … people being upset about the fact that Novak has come in because of his statements over the past couple of years around vaccination,’ he told reporters.
Tiley acknowledged that questions will be asked about the exemption and the only person who can answer them is Djokovic.
‘It’ll certainly be helpful if Novak was to explain the conditions in which he’s sought an exemption … but ultimately it’s up to him,’ he said.
He added it was up to Djokovic if he wished to discuss his condition with the public as well as why he received his exemption to play.
All players at the Australian Open, which begins on January 17, need to be vaccinated or secure an exemption like Djokovic which is assessed by an independent panel of experts.
Djokovic will surpass Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the best player in the sport’s history if he wins his tenth Australian Open on January 30, taking his tally of grand slam titles to 21.