Australia cancels Novak Djokovic visa to enter country

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Courtesy: Atilano Garcia/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

(CNN) — Nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic may not be able to defend his 2021 title after his visa to enter Australia was canceled, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in an interview with local media Thursday.

Djokovic "failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements for Australia and visa has been subsequently canceled," he said.

The 20-time grand slam champion from Serbia traveled to Melbourne on Wednesday after receiving a medical exemption -- according to tournament organizers -- to play in the season-opening grand slam. But he is reportedly being held at the airport after applying for a visa that does not permit medical exemptions for being unvaccinated, Australian news outlets reported.

According to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Border Force (ABF) contacted the state Victoria government after learning of an issue with the visa submitted by Djokovic's team while he was en route to the country.

The ABF confirmed in a statement that the 34-year-old player's visa had been revoked for failing to provide appropriate evidence for entry to the country.

"The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements," the statement read.

"Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa canceled will be detained and removed from Australia," it added.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the world No. 1 in men's tennis is subject to the same rules as everyone.

"Mr Djokovic's visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant," he tweeted.

Before the announcement, Djokovic's father, Srdjan Djokovic, told a Serbian radio station his son was being held "captive" by Australian officials following a visa application mix-up.

He told Serbian radio station B92 his son was being housed in a room that no one can enter, with two policemen in the front of the room.

"I have no idea what's going on. They're holding my son captive for five hours," Srdjan Djokovic said in a statement to Russian news agency Sputnik, according to B92. "This is a fight for the libertarian world, this is not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world! If they don't let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street. This is a fight for everyone."

Since the comments were made, there have been no reports of any gatherings in Belgrade or outside the Melbourne Airport.

Earlier on Wednesday, Djokovic's coach Goran Ivanisevic posted a photo to social media from what apgpears to be the Melbourne Airport in Australia where Djokovic reportedly was being held, captioning it, "Not the most usual trip Down Under."

The Australian Open is the first tennis grand slam of the year and is set to run from January 17-30.

Players were told they would have to be fully vaccinated in order to participate or have a medical exemption granted by an independent panel of experts.

Djokovic, who is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slam singles titles, has not publicly revealed his vaccination status but has voiced opposition to compulsory Covid-19 vaccines.

"Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn't want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel," he said in a Facebook live chat, according to Reuters.

But in May of last year, Djokovic said vaccination was a matter of personal choice: "I will keep the decision as to whether I'm going to get vaccinated or not to myself. It's an intimate decision, and I don't want to go into this game of pro and against vaccines, which the media is unfortunately creating these days."

Australian Open organizers said in a statement on Tuesday that Djokovic's exemption was "granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts."

During a news conference Wednesday, CEO of Tennis Australia Craig Tiley defended the impartiality of the medical exemption review process, telling reporters, "No one knew who the applicant was."

Exemption conditions

Under the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation's (ATAGI) current guidelines, a medical exemption is granted to individuals who have an "acute major medical condition (e.g. undergoing major surgery or hospital admission for a serious illness."

The other remaining grounds for a medical exemption concern people who have suffered a "serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, without another cause identified" and a vaccinee who "is a risk to themselves or others during the vaccination process," due to an "underlying developmental or mental health disorder."

Lastly, exemptions may be given to anyone with a "PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, where vaccination can be deferred until six months," and in cases where individuals have received "anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibody or convalescent plasma therapy."

In June 2020, Djokovic tested positive for coronavirus following an exhibition event he organized in Croatia, but since then there have been no reports of him being re-infected with the virus.

"It's ultimately up to him to discuss with the public his condition if he chooses to do that and the reason why he received his exemption," Tilley said.