New Delhi | Jagran Sports Desk: Novak Djokovic was again detained in Australia Saturday after authorities ripped up his visa for a second time and declared the unvaccinated tennis superstar a threat to the public. Court documents showed the 34-year-old Serbian was currently being detained at an address in Melbourne, as his appeal against deportation is heard.

Just two days before the Australian Open begins, the world number one is again focused on law courts rather than the centre court in the latest twist in a high-profile row over his Covid-19 vaccine status. Immigration minister Alex Hawke now claims Djokovic's continued presence in the country could "foster anti-vaccination sentiment" and even spark an "increase in civil unrest".

Djokovic was summoned to appear before immigration officials in Melbourne ahead of emergency Federal Court hearings on Saturday and Sunday. He was allowed to follow court proceedings from an address -- believed to be his lawyers' offices -- under guard of two Australian Border Force officers. This is the second attempt by Australia's conservative government to deport Djokovic, one of the world's most high-profile Covid-19 vaccine sceptics.

The 34-year-old Serbian used a medical exemption to enter Australia earlier this month, hoping to challenge for a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Open. Amid public outcry, Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government revoked Djokovic's visa on arrival. Many Australians -- who have suffered prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions -- believe Djokovic gamed the system to dodge vaccine entry requirements.

But the government was humiliated when a judge reinstated Djokovic's visa and allowed him to remain in the country. This time, the government has invoked exceptional -- and difficult to challenge -- executive powers to declare him a threat to public health and safety. The government argues that Djokovic's presence is a threat to public health and order, particularly as Australia suffers a tidal wave of Omicron infections.

His continued presence in the country "may pose a health risk to the Australian community" by solidifying anti-vaccine sentiment and discouraging people from getting boosters, immigration minister Hawke argued, according to a court filing released Saturday. Djokovic's lawyers argue the government "cited no evidence" to support their claims.

The minister admitted that Djokovic is at "negligible" risk of infecting Australians, but argued his past "disregard" for Covid-19 regulations may pose a risk to public health and encourage people to ignore pandemic rules.

The tennis ace contracted Covid-19 in mid-December and, according to his own account, failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive. Public records show he attended a stamp unveiling, youth tennis event and was granted a media interview around the time he got tested and his infection was confirmed.

In a statement, Hawke said the government was "firmly committed to protecting Australia's borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic", citing "health and good order grounds" for the decision to cancel Djokovic's visa once again.

The minister said, "it was in the public interest to do so". The government has agreed not to deport Djokovic until the hearing is over, barrister Stephen Lloyd told an emergency late-night federal court session Friday.

Djokovic is the Australian Open's top seed and a nine-time winner of the tournament. He had been practising just hours before Hawke's decision was announced. It is unclear if Djokovic will choose to stay and fight the case if he believes he is unable to compete in the Australian Open.

 

(With Agency Inputs)

Posted By: Talibuddin Khan