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Home / Sports / Tennis News /  Novak Djokovic released from detention in Australia after legal victory

A judge ordered that tennis player Novak Djokovic be released from detention, overturning the Australian government’s cancellation of his visa and potentially clearing the way for him to compete at the Australian Open.

Judge Anthony Kelly overturned last week’s decision by authorities, who canceled Djokovic’s visa on the grounds that he wasn’t exempt from rules requiring travelers to Australia to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The judge ordered the government to pay costs and for the No. 1 men’s tennis player to be released from detention, with his passport and personal effects returned to him.

Djokovic has already left the Melbourne hotel in which he has been detained since Thursday. He was allowed to watch Monday’s court hearing, which like many in Australia since the start of the pandemic was conducted virtually, from a separate location and was alongside his lawyers at their office when it ended.

The hearing was plagued by technical issues, with thousands of people trying to view the official court video stream. Midway through the day, the court shifted the stream to YouTube, which showed more than 14,000 people were watching.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke could still cancel Djokovic’s visa on grounds including public interest, government lawyer Christopher Tran said. Judge Kelly warned that such a move by Mr. Hawke could have serious consequences for the player, including for his reputation and finances.

“If this man is to be summarily removed upon a personal exercise of cancellation power, he cannot return to this country for three years," Judge Kelly said, adding that Mr. Hawke should decide quickly.

Such a sanction could also end the 34-year-old Djokovic’s chances of adding to his nine Australian Open titles.

A spokesman for Mr. Hawke said the minister has discretionary power to cancel Djokovic’s visa under the country’s migration law.

“The minister is currently considering the matter and the process remains ongoing," the spokesman said late Monday in Australia.

The government conceded that immigration authorities didn’t give Djokovic enough time last week when they decided that his claim of a positive Dec. 16 test for the coronavirus didn’t justify his exemption from vaccination rules.

Djokovic was questioned for about eight hours through the night at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport and should have been given until 8:30 a.m. local time to respond to notice that authorities intended to cancel his visa. The decision was made 48 minutes before that, denying Djokovic more time to consult with his lawyers.

A transcript of Djokovic’s interview with an immigration official showed the player, who has made it clear over the past two years that he doesn’t believe in Covid-19 vaccination for himself, told his interlocutor that he hadn’t been vaccinated and had twice contracted Covid-19.

He previously caught and recovered from the virus in the summer of 2020 and was able to play out a normal schedule because none of the other majors were held in countries with strict vaccine mandates at the time.

Djokovic had left his decision to participate in the Australian Open as late as possible and believed his second positive test—and subsequent recovery—would exempt him from rules requiring travelers to the country to be fully vaccinated. He gave immigration officials a document from Tennis Australia, the organization that runs the Australian Open, telling him that he had an exemption.

“I arrived here because of these documents otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed to come in," he said according to the transcript released by the court.

Djokovic then spent the next four days detained in Melbourne’s Park Hotel, which the government uses to house asylum seekers and refugees. The hotel was at the center of a Covid-19 outbreak that sparked Melbourne’s second lockdown of the pandemic, and resident asylum seekers contacted by The Wall Street Journal said they were worried about further exposure following another outbreak last year.

Djokovic’s case has prompted outrage in Melbourne and across Victoria state, which has spent much of the past 21 months under strict lockdown.

The Australian Open starts Jan. 17. Djokovic’s lawyers have said tournament organizers need his participation confirmed by Tuesday. Tennis Australia declined to comment when contacted.

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