World number one men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic should be deported from Australia if he has not told the truth about his exemption from vaccination rules, the deputy prime minister says.
Barnaby Joyce told the BBC that rich people “can’t wander around the world thinking… they are above the laws”.
Djokovic, who had travelled to play in the Australian Open, is in immigration detention after his entry was denied.
A court will decide on whether he should be deported on Monday.
The 34-year-old Serbian player, who has said he is opposed to vaccination, had been granted a medical exemption to play in the tournament in Melbourne for unspecified reasons, a decision that infuriated many Australians.
The exemption was given by two independent medical panels organised by Tennis Australia, the body that runs the event, and Victoria state, tournament organisers said.
But on Wednesday, Australian Border Force (ABF) officials said Djokovic had “failed to provide appropriate evidence” for entry after arriving from Dubai. He is being held at a hotel used for immigration detention in a Melbourne suburb.
“If he hasn’t filled out the forms appropriately then he’s taking the sovereign capacity of another nation for a joke,” Mr Joyce told the BBC’s Newshour programme. “100% someone’s made a mistake and if he hasn’t told the truth then the person who’s made the mistake is Mr Djokovic.”
He added: “You can’t just wander around the world thinking that because you’re really rich you’re really above the laws of other nations.”
Djokovic’s team challenged ABF’s decision, and a hearing at the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia has been scheduled for Monday. It is not yet clear whether Djokovic will remain in the same hotel until then.
Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison denied Djokovic was being singled out and said no-one was above the country’s rules. Though Djokovic’s reason for an exemption has not been disclosed, Mr Morrison said contracting Covid-19 in the past six months was not among federal criteria for one.
Mr Morrison had initially said he accepted the Victorian government’s decision to grant Djokovic and other tennis players medical exemptions.
He is now being accused of politicising the issue amid the huge public backlash. The prime minister himself is under pressure amid the surge of Covid-19 infections in the country, and a federal election is scheduled for May.
The row prompted Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to say Djokovic was a victim of “harassment” and that “the whole of Serbia” supported him. Mr Morrison denied the visa cancellation was because of “any particular position in relation to Serbia”.
The player’s father, Srdjan, said his son had been held in a room guarded by police at the airport. “This is not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world,” he said in a statement.
Disappointment and anger
For hours, Novak Djokovic’s supporters made their way outside the Melbourne quarantine hotel where he’s believed to be staying, many from the Serbian community here. The strength of feeling was palpable as songs about freedom played and some danced. “This is a disgrace,” Kristina told me, draped in the Serbian flag. “I’m ashamed to be an Australian today. If he’s not playing – I’m not going.”
Jelena wore a white cap with Djokovic’s signature that she got two years ago when he was here for the tournament. She carries a sign that says “Thank you”. “He represents a connection to my home country. The Australian government needs to fix this mess. It’s an international scandal and the world is watching,” Jelena said, her disappointment that he may not be competing evident.
Djokovic has landed in the middle of a controversy that’s gone beyond tennis and is now at the heart of a political tussle – between the state and the federal authorities.
And while the player and his legal team wait for the court hearing to resume on Monday, anger and confusion are the overarching sentiments here – whether from those who say he shouldn’t have been allowed in or those furious at the thought of him being deported.
The world number one has dominated the Australian Open, winning it nine times. But his attempt to defend his title and go for a 10th may be over before the tournament begins.
Spanish tennis start Rafael Nadal, who is in Melbourne to prepare for the tournament, said it was “normal” for Australians to get “very frustrated with the case”.
“The only for me clear thing is if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open,” he said, adding: “Of course after a lot of people had been dying for two years, my feeling is [that] the vaccine is the only way to stop this pandemic.”
But former Australian Open tournament director Paul McNamee told local media the visa U-turn was unprecedented, saying it “smells” of politics.
Two other players were now having their medical exemptions reviewed, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. Mr Morrison said the ABF had previously advised Tennis Australia on visa expectations.
The Australian Open begins on 17 January. Djokovic has previously won the tournament nine times.