Updated Jan 10, 2022 - Sports

Novak Djokovic wins Australian visa appeal

Novak Djokovic plays at the 2021 Australian Open.

Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic's Australian visa cancellation was overturned Monday by a judge on the country's federal circuit court, who ordered the Serbian tennis star's release from immigration detention within 30 minutes of the ruling.

Why it matters: It enables the men's tennis world No. 1 to possibly stay in the country and defend his Australian Open title, after border officials last week canceled his visa over his COVID-19 vaccination status.

  • Djokovic is seeking to achieve a record 21st Grand Slam win when the tournament begins on Jan. 17.

Yes, but: He could still face deportation if Australia's immigration minister decides to cancel the 34-year-old's visa for a second time.

  • Christopher Tan, a lawyer for the Australian government, told the court in Melbourne following Judge Anthony Kelly's ruling that the minister, Alex Hawke, "will consider whether to exercise a personal power of cancellation."

Driving the news: Kelly read out an agreement in court, broadcast online, between Djokovic and the Australian government that the government will pay the player's costs and return his passport and personal belongings.

  • Kelly said the decision to cancel Djokovic's visa was "unreasonable" because the player had been told at 5:20am last Thursday that he had until 8:30am to respond to officials.
  • The judge had earlier permitted Djokovic to leave the Melbourne hotel detention facility in which he had been placed in order to attend his hearing.

What they're saying: Kelly said at Monday's hearing that he was "somewhat agitated" over Djokovic's treatment by border officials, adding: "What more could this man have done?"

  • Djokovic said in a tweet he is "pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete. ... 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."

Flashback: Border officials said when they canceled Djokovic's visa last week that he failed to provide "appropriate evidence" for his medical exemption from Australia's COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

  • Lawyers for Djokovic argued that the tennis star could play in the Australian Open because he had tested positive for the virus within the past six months and had consequently received a Victoria state medical exemption.

Of note: Djokovic has previously criticized COVID-19 vaccination mandates but had never publicly revealed whether he'd been inoculated against the virus.

  • But a transcript of his interview with Australian Border Force officials released by the court on Monday reveals that Djokovic told them he's "not vaccinated" and had twice tested positive for the coronavirus — once in June 2020 and again last month.

The big picture: Over 92% of people over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated in Australia, and residents in several states have experienced some of the world's strictest lockdowns and border policies during the pandemic.

  • Many expressed anger at Djokovic's announcement last week that he had an exemption to play in the Open.
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose conservative coalition government is seeking re-election in polls to be held by May, tweeted last week on Djokovic: "Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders." He's yet to comment on the judge's ruling.

What to watch: If Hawke decides to cancel Djokovic's visa again, the player could challenge the decision. But the minister's powers are "extremely broad and discretionary," making that difficult to achieve, Melbourne's The Age notes.

  • Djokovic would be prohibited from re-entering Australia for three years if Hawke used these powers.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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