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Novak Djokovic was sleep-deprived and pressured to cancel his visa, court documents claim

Novak Djokovic was sleep-deprived and pressured by Australian officials to cancel his visa after being detained at Melbourne airport, his legal team have argued.

Representatives for the world’s top-ranked tennis player also claim he was given a medical exemption after testing positive for COVID-19 on 16 December.

The tennis star touched down in the country late on Wednesday night, ahead of the start of the Australian Open.

However, he is now embroiled in a row over whether he is exempt from the country’s COVID vaccination rules, and is facing deportation if his appeal is unsuccessful.


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Djokovic’s father speaks to rally

Interrogated for six hours

After travelling for 25 hours, Djokovic’s lawyers claim he was interrogated for six hours at the airport before being allowed to go somewhere to sleep – only to be woken by officials half an hour later and pressured into making a decision on cancelling his visa.

Newly released court documents show he believed his exemption was “consistent with the recommendations of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation”.

More on Novak Djokovic

At the start of the interview, just after midnight, an official told him previous infection did not mean he qualified for an exemption.

He responded: “I’m sorry to interrupt, but that’s not true.”

He added: “I explained that I had been recently infected with COVID in December 2021 and on this basis I was entitled to a medical exemption in accordance with Australian government rules and guidance.

A Novak Djokovic fan outside the detention hotel where he is staying in Melbourne
A Djokovic fan outside the detention hotel where he is staying in Melbourne

Why is Djokovic being denied entry to Australia – and what are their travel rules?

“I further explained that my medical exemption had been granted by the Independent Expert Medical Review Panel, that I had previously provided all relevant medical reports to TA, including my COVIDPCR test results, and that accordingly the visa should not be cancelled.”

A timeline of Djokovic’s detention

00:21 – 00:51am – Djokovic begins to be interviewed by officials.

4:11am – Officials give notice to cancel Djokovic’s visa, and give him 20 minutes to give “any further explanation”. Djokovic asks to wait until 8am so he can call Tennis Australia to “figure this out”.

5:20am – Officials say they will give him time to rest, until around 8am – 8:30am. The interview is suspended.

5:22 – 6:07am – In this time Djokovic waits on a sofa outside the interview room for a bed to be prepared. He was eventually taken to a room at 5:30am, but was awoken “around 6am” and “pressured” to continue the interview immediately.

7:42am – His visa is officially cancelled.

The documents claim he had received “a letter from the Chief Medical Officer of Tennis Australia recording that he had been provided with a ‘Medical exemption from COVID vaccination’ on the grounds that he had recently recovered from COVID”.

Pressured into cancelling his visa

He asked to be given time to contact his agent and lawyers however, the court documents allege he was pressured into continuing the interview and ultimately agreeing to cancel his visa.

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Djokovic treated ‘severely unfairly’

The documents state: “Mr Djokovic, having formed the view that “[they were] going to cancel [his] visa, it’s obvious” relented, feeling he had no choice, and on the basis of an understanding based on what they had said to him that it was better for him if the interview was done right away.”

His legal team claim the actions of officials were “spurious and mischievous” adding: “It plainly was not, and would never have been, better for Mr Djokovic if a visa cancellation decision were made while he was unrested and without consulting with his representatives.”

Djokovic was left feeling “shock”, “surprise” and “confusion” at the actions of officials – as he believed he had properly complied with the law of Australia.

Djokovic has previously spoken about his opposition to vaccination and has repeatedly refused to reveal his vaccine status
Djokovic has previously spoken about his opposition to vaccination and has repeatedly refused to reveal his vaccine status

Gluten-free food deliveries, exercise equipment and a SIM card -the conditions in tennis star’s immigration detention

Final decision due

He is now staying at the Park Hotel, which is doubling up as an immigration detention facility until a final decision about his visa is made.

The federal court will hear his appeal at 10am on Monday morning (11pm GMT Sunday).

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Djokovic, wearing a black hoodie, can be seen in the middle at the back of the group photograph. Pic: Tennis Association of Serbia
Djokovic appears to have been photographed with young players the day after lawyers say he tested positive for COVID. Pic: Tennis Association of Serbia

The documents state the Serbian athlete first recorded a positive PCR on 16 December – however, a press release from the Tennis Association of Serbia appears to show Djokovic meeting with young tennis players the next day.

It is unclear if Djokovic knew he had the virus when the pictures were taken.


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