The future of the Australian Open is at risk with fears of chaos in the stands next week and growing calls for the nation to be stripped of its grand slam over its treatment of Novak Djokovic.
US star Tennys Sandgren and several tennis fans have called for Australia to be stripped of the tournament – as Djokovic was finally released from immigration detention following a court ruling on Monday.
The court decision sparked wild scenes from supporters on the streets of Melbourne and tournament directors are now on high alert amid fears of violence in the stands should Djokovic play next week.
The nine-time Australian Open champion is still not a guaranteed starter for the event, which gets underway in six days.
Federal Immigration minister Alex Hawke has refused to rule out using his personal powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa yet again and boot him out of the country – sparking a furious response from one-time tennis star and MP colleague John Alexander, who warned about the future of the Open.
The former Australian and Davis Cup champion unleashed on his own government in a fiery Facebook tirade on Monday night, prompting a divided reaction online.
The former tennis champion turned federal MP says Novak Djokovic (with wife Jelena) should be allowed to defend his Australian Open title
Liberal MP John Alexander (right) has slammed his own government over the Novak Djokovic saga, arguing the tennis superstar should not be deported
Mr Alexander leapt to the defence of Djokovic and argued the nine-time Australian Open champion complied with the health entry requirements and didn’t appear to be an unreasonable health risk to Australia.
He believes retaining the Australian Open as a grand slam was in the nation’s interest before taking a swipe at the minister who may potentially exercise his personal powers to deport as early as Tuesday morning.
He said Mr Hawke’s discretionary powers to deport is meant for criminals and contagious people, not ‘political problems’.
‘It would appear Covid-negative Novak has complied with all health entry requirements, the judge asking: “What more could this man have done?,’ Mr Alexander wrote.
‘Based on this, Novak does not seem to present an unreasonable health risk to Australia.
‘So what would be the ‘public interest’ the Minister could potentially use to exercise his personal powers to deport our defending Australian Open tennis champion?
‘Retaining the Australian Open as a grand slam event, I would argue is in our national interest.
‘The minister’s ‘personal powers to cancel visas’ are designed to prevent criminals otherwise walking our streets, or to prevent a contagious person otherwise walking our streets; they’re not designed to assist in dealing with a potential political problem of the day.’
2020 Australian open quarter finalist Tennys Sandgren (pictured) originally sparked calls for Australia to be stripped of its Melbourne Park grand slam
The minister’s colleague, Liberal MP and former tennis champion John Alexander slammed the government’s consideration to re-cancel Djokovic’s visa
Immigration minister Alex Hawke (pictured) has refused to rule out using his personal powers to re-cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa
Mr Alexander doubled down on his comments on Tuesday morning, telling ABC Radio breakfast host Hamish MacDonald it would be a mistake to deport Djokovic.
‘There seems no reason to do so. The judge has been abundantly clear in his finding and his comments around the findings,’ he said.
‘It was a pretty emphatic decision.’
Mr Alexander admitted he hadn’t expressed his concerns to the minister.
‘I’ve got no need, I’m free to do whatever I want really,’ he said.
‘I’ve had a long history in tennis and I understand the origins of grand slam events, which Australia is hugely invested in.’
While he doesn’t believe Australia will lose its grand slam if Djokovic is deported, he warned the event will be ‘diminished.’
‘If the Australian Open is making conditions that people seem to meet and aren’t allowed to come, that would not help our status,’ Mr Alexander said.
‘We have previously been the poor cousin of the four events but with the establishment of Melbourne Park, it’s significantly the best venue of the grand slams.’
‘We’ve got a lot going for us but we need to tread carefully and we need to be showing that people will be allowed in the country if they meet the criteria.’
Mr Alexander’s comments sparked a divided reaction online.
Many disagreed and said Djokovic could have avoided the dramas by getting vaccinated.
‘It’s not about politics, it’s about consistency. Djokovic is unvaccinated and has shown no interest in being vaccinated. He should never have been allowed to get on the aircraft to Australia. The fact he is here is irrelevant and he should be deported or otherwise leave the country. The Australian Open is just tennis,’ one man commented.
John Alexander (right) warned the Australian Open grand slam will be ‘diminished’ if Novak Djokovic is deported
Novak Djokovic (left) hopes to become the first men’s player to win 21 grand slams
Others accused Mr Alexander of bias due to his tennis background.
‘Shame on you John What hat are you wearing, obviously the tennis hat, He could have got vaccinated like the rest of us. Allowing a guy who attended public event unmasked whilst he had covid is not a smart idea either,’ one woman commented.
Another added: ‘Wow, tennis before rules…Tennis Australia and Victoria should have followed the rules. The court ruling does not mean nor did it have to determine if he followed the rules. A tactical win. Your past tennis connection shows above your current career.’
But there was some support for Mr Alexander’s comments.
‘The independent Court decided in accordance with Australian rules, one man posted.
Tennis fans are now calling for Australia to be stripped of its long-standing grand slam status unless Djokovic is allowed to play.
‘Japan is way better at this than Australia. Cancel the Australian Open and give it too Japan. Australia is too backward to hold a global sports event,’ one Canadian tweeted.
US celebrity Trainer Justin Allen added: If the Australian government exercise executive powers and decide to deport Novak Djokovic anyway- despite its own court ruling today- the Australian Open should be stripped of its grand slam status and become a non-ranking event.
2020 Australian Open quarter finalist Tennys Sandgren first sparked the calls when Djokovic’s visa was originall cancelled last Thursday.
‘ Just to be crystal clear here 2 separate medical boards approved his exemption And politicians are stopping it, Australia doesn’t deserve to host a grand slam,’ he tweeted.
There is growing backlash over Australia’s treatment of Djokovic amid calls for the Melbourne major to be stripped of its grand slam status
Many fans are calling for Australia’s grand slam to be given to Japan instead
Daily Mail Australia understands that Mr Hawke was deliberating the move and will not make a call on whether to re-cancel Djokovic’s visa until Tuesday morning Australian time at the earliest, six days out from the start of the Australian Open.
‘Following today’s Federal Circuit and Family Court determination on a procedural ground, it remains within Immigration Minister Hawke’s discretion to consider cancelling Mr Djokovic’s visa … The minister is currently considering the matter,’ a spokesman for the minister said on Monday night.
It was speculated Mr Hawke had just four hours to make such a decision, but it later emerged the four hour window is only relevant if the government had decided to bring in Djokovic for further questioning, which has not happened.
However, there is no time limit on the minister’s power to cancel the visa and can be done whenever he decides there is enough evidence that there is a ground to do so and if it’s in the public interest.
Judge Anthony Kelly noted if Djokovic was to be deported through an order from Mr Hawke, he could be forbidden from returning to Australia for three years, though there would be discretion to allow him back in for next year’s Open.
He told the court in no uncertain terms that if the government does consider this motion, he must be given ample notice to prepare for future proceedings.
Until then, Djokovic is free to remain in Australia and compete at the Open – which starts on January 17 – where he will bid to become the most-decorated men’s singles player of all time.
The Serb is currently level with Federer and Nadal on 20 Open titles each. Federer is out of this year’s tournament with injury, while Nadal will be competing in Melbourne.
Novak Djokovic is still in limbo as immigration minister refuses to rule out cancelling his visa – but posted this picture of himself practicing at Rod Laver area just hours after he was finally released from detention after a five-day-long ordeal
Djokovic broke his silence over the Australian government’s failed attempt to cancel his visa, saying he still wants to compete at the Australian Open next week.
‘I’m pleased and grateful that the judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete,’ he said on Twitter, alongside a picture of himself practicing late at Rod Laver Arena on Monday night.
‘I remain focused on that. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans.’
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NOVAK DJOKOVIC’S CASE
Will Novak Djokovic play at the Australian Open? Nobody will know until the Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke declares his hand – either to allow Djokovic to stay in Australia or to re-cancel his visa.
If he does not decide to cancel his visa, Djokovic will be free to stay in Australia and defend his title.
What happened in court? Judge Anthony Kelly quashed the decision to tear up Djokovic’s visa and ordered him to be freed and his belongings to be returned.
Will he still be deported? Again, this comes down to immigration minister Alex Hawke. The Djokovic case has been a debacle for the government and divided Australians over the best course of action.
Djokovic’s family said in a press conference in Serbia that he had returned to training on the tennis court and the ‘rule of law has won’.
His mother Dijana said her son ‘suffered torture’ at the hands of Australian immigration officials, while his father Srdjan said Djokovic had his ‘human rights taken away’, and that he had been denied contact with friends, his team or his lawyers during the ordeal.
‘At the end he won, justice has won and the rule of law has won,’ Srdjan said.
Djokovic’s brother Djordje said the family found the situation ‘very difficult’.
‘We are very emotional about my brother. It’s difficult to defend Novak and not to offend anyone at the same time.
Fans became increasingly agitated when their hero failed to emerge from his lawyers’ office – before it became clear he had somehow snuck out undetected
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic’s (pictured left to right) uncle Goran, mother Dijana, father Srdjan and brother Djordje hold a press conference in Belgrade on Monday night – saying the tennis champion had his ‘human rights taken away’
Members of the Serbian community (pictured) are seen marching through Melbourne on Monday night, with the scene soon becoming violent as protesters crashed with police – leading to many being pepper-sprayed
‘We are fighters for justice and rule of law and we have done everything we could to follow procedures.’
The comments from Djokovic and his family came after a night of violence involving his supporters on Melbourne’s streets, days of legal confusion and endless political posturing.
Djokovic’s visa for Australia was cancelled due to an apparent issue with his Covid vaccination exemption, and he was held in a cheap hotel under an immigration detention order while he waited for his appeal to be held on Monday.
Then after five days of chaotic bureaucracy and finger pointing between the Australian federal government, the Victorian state government, the Serbian government and Tennis Australia, a court overturned the cancellation of his visa.
This led to wild celebrations from an army of fans who had gathered at the Djokovic’s lawyer Paul Holdenson’s office, with many of the supporters waving Serbian flags to honour their fellow countryman.
A member of the press (pictured) lies on the ground after sustaining an injury during clashes between the Serbian Community and Victorian Police officers in Melbourne on Monday
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic’s mother Dijana (pictured left) and father Srdjan (pictured right) held a press conference in Belgrade on Monday night, saying the player had been ‘tortured’
But the celebrations turned violent when a car with tinted windows thought to contain Djokovic emerged from his lawyer’s car park.
It’s not known if he was even in the vehicle, but many of his supporters were convinced he was and that he’d been arrested – leading them to try and stop the car by laying their bodies in the road.
Some began spitting and throwing bottles at the police, while officers used pepper spray to clear a path for the car.
Djokovic was watching the court proceedings from his lawyer’s office when Federal Court Judge Anthony Kelly ordered the 34-year-old to be freed from detention at Melbourne’s Park Hotel by no later than 5.46pm.
Judge Kelly quashed the decision to tear up Djokovic’s visa and ordered that all his personal belongings be returned, saying: ‘What more could this man have done?’
The decision is a huge blow to the Department of Home Affairs which had claimed Djokovic had relied on out-of-date ATAGI advice to enter the country.
EXCERPT OF NOVAK DJOKOVIC VISA INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
Interview #1 begun at 12.21am on January 6:
INTERVIEWER: Thank you. So when I ask you what were your reasons for travelling to Australia today?
DJOKOVIC: I’m a professional tennis player and the main reason for me coming to Australia is participating in the Australian Open in Melbourne, Victoria.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you. Now question regarding your vaccination, are you vaccinated for COVID-19? Not vaccinated?
DJOKOVIC: I am not vaccinated.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you. Have you ever had COVID?
DJOKOVIC: Yes. I had COVID twice, I had COVID in June 2020 and I had COVID recently in – I was tested positive – PCR –16th of December 2021.
DJOKOVIC: I have the documents as well to confirm that if you want I can provide
INTERVIEWER: Thank you. I’ll just make a photocopy of those documents.
He’d already spent 25 hours in transit and was astounded to learn his medical exemption was not considered satisfactory, saying he genuinely believed he had done all that was required.
Djokovic told the court he ‘did not understand what was happening’ or why they would consider cancelling his visa and repeatedly pleaded with officials to allow him time to consult his legal team when they woke up.
He was first alerted that something was amiss as soon as the plane touched down in Australia. Both Djokovic and his team were ordered off the plane and immediately questioned.
The situation in Melbourne became increasingly hostile of Djokovic fans turned up outside his lawyers’ office to see the star released (pictured on Monday night)
Djokovic told the court his passport was seized at this time and never returned. Judge Anthony Kelly ordered it be returned to him no later than 5.46pm Monday following his monumental court win.
By 12.20am, Border Force officials were ready to commence a formal interview with the Serbian star, demanding all documentation relating to the medical exemption.
Djokovic handed over the same documents he’d already provided, including his medical exemption letter from Tennis Australia and correspondence with the Department of Home Affairs indicating he’d met requirements to travel.
‘I was asked whether I had been previously infected by Covid. I told him that I had been infected twice… the most recent occasion being December 2021.’
Djokovic said in his affidavit he was happy to oblige because he recognised that the issue was his vaccination status, and wanted to reassure the officials he’d taken all the precautions to ensure he was fit to travel.
Ecstatic fans reacted with joy when they learned Djokovic was going to be released (pictured in Melbourne on Monday)
‘That is why I wanted him to see the COVID-PCR test results, but I recall he did not appear to be very interested in these documents,’ Djokovic recalled.
During the interview, the official left the room on up to eight occasions to seek advice from his superior.
On one such occasion, the 34-year-old tennis star was reprimanded for using his mobile phone while he was alone in the room. He was told to switch off the phone and put it away, and did so.
After a 90 minute interrogation, it was determined there was ‘nothing else Djokovic could provide’ and he was permitted to ‘go into the corridor to rest on the sofa’.
The black car, which many fans were convinced was taking Djokovic away, was quickly surrounded as police tried to keep them back
He was woken about 4am with a document notifying him of the intention to ‘consider cancellation of [his] visa’.
Djokovic immediately attempted to reason with the officers, telling them that he’d received advice from the Independent State Government medical panel which explicitly stated his recent Covid infection was grounds for exemption.
‘He told me he was giving me 20 or so minutes to respond, give comments or give any other information that may affect their decision whether to cancel my visa.’
This decision would eventually be the critical reason Djokovic was successful in his appeal on Monday.
Australian Open on RED ALERT amid fears of violence in the stands if Novak Djokovic is freed to play after court overturned his visa cancellation… as security is beefed up after fans clash with Melbourne police
Scuffles broke out between police and Serbian fans on Monday in the city’s business district, with protesters pepper-sprayed, after a suggestion that he was to be put back in detention despite a court freeing him to play.
With Djokovic the focus of rowdy supporters who include anti-vaxxers, the uniformed presence will be beefed up when the event begins on Monday.
Novak Djokovic is the focus of rowdy supporters in Melbourne, who include anti-vaxxers
However, it remained far from certain that he would be allowed to feature, despite winning the court ruling that overturned the Border Force’s decision to rip up his visa.
If allowed to stay, Tennis Australia will move to avoid scenes which marred the tournament in the Noughties, when fans of rival players from Balkan countries clashed. Melbourne Park’s Garden Square was the site of a mass brawl between Serbs and Croats in 2007.
Feelings were running high after Judge Anthony Kelly struck down a ruling that Djokovic should be detained or deported after he was refused entry late last Wednesday night.
In Belgrade his family gave another hyperbolic press conference, with the player’s father Srdjan saying: ‘I call on Queen Elizabeth, the leader of the Commonwealth, to intervene and protect the human rights of my son and to stop the political prosecution carried out against him since he came to Australia.’
Scuffles broke out between police and Serbian fans on Monday in the city’s business district
However, perhaps the most telling comment came from the office of immigration minister Alex Hawke, a close ally of prime minister Scott Morrison. It was made plain he could override the technical view of the court that the law was not followed in stopping Djokovic at the border.
‘It remains within immigration minister Hawke’s discretion to consider cancelling Mr Djokovic’s visa under his personal power of cancellation within the Migration Act,’ read the statement. ‘The minister is considering the matter and the process remains ongoing.’
The judge ordered that Djokovic be released within half an hour of him handing his verdict down and the player, who has been unable to exercise since leaving his base in Marbella a week ago, wasted no time in heading to Melbourne Park to practise.
Melbourne Park’s Garden Square was the site of a brawl between Serbs and Croats in 2007
He posted on his Twitter feed: ‘I’m pleased and grateful that the judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete in the Australian Open. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of amazing fans.’
Court documents detailing his interview with border officials made clear for the first time that Djokovic remains unvaccinated. His grounds for entry are a somewhat mysterious positive Covid test that was taken on December 16.
Whether his cause was helped by his family’s condemnatory statements about his treatment is another matter. His captivity was described as ‘inhumane’ and his brother Djordje insisted that ‘he is only fighting for freedom of choice’.
At least Rafael Nadal, who had previously criticised Djokovic, seemed satisfied about his participation. ‘It seems perfect to me, totally correct,’ said Nadal. ‘Whether or not you agree with some of the things regarding Djokovic, justice has spoken and has said that he has the right to play in the Australian Open, and that’s really the fairest way.’