MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic will not be defending his Australian Open title.
The world’s No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player, who is unvaccinated against COVID-19, lost his final bid to avoid deportation on Sunday when a court unanimously dismissed his challenge against an Australian government minister’s decision to cancel his visa, ESPN reported.
The court’s decision cannot be appealed.
Djokovic, 34, said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed” but that he respected the ruling. He said he would “cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.”
“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” said Djokovic, the defending champion who has won the Grand Slam event nine times. “I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the decision and said it was “time to get on with the Australian Open.”
“Strong borders are fundamental to the Australian way of life as is the rule of law,” Morrison said in a statement. “Our government has always understood this and has been prepared to take the decisions and actions necessary to protect the integrity of our borders.”
But opposition spokesperson Kristina Keneally said Djokovic was being deported for what he said and did publicly overseas before the government gave him a visa in November.
“This mess isn’t a failure of our laws,” Keneally tweeted. “It’s a failure of Morrison’s competence and leadership.”
Djokovic arrived at Melbourne Airport on Sunday night and boarded an Emirates flight bound for Dubai, The New York Times reported. The 20-time Grand Slam champion could be barred from entering Australia for the next three years under its laws regarding visa cancellations, but the government could waive that.
“I welcome today’s unanimous decision by the Full Federal Court of Australia, upholding my decision to exercise my power under the Migration Act to cancel Mr Novak Djokovic’s visa in the public interest,” Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, tweeted Sunday.
“I can confirm that Mr. Djokovic has now departed Australia.”
Djokovic’s legal team had argued in court on Sunday that Hawke had erred by canceling Djokovic’s visa on the grounds that he could encourage anti-vaccination sentiment in the country, the Times reported. Hawke had not considered whether deporting Djokovic could also stoke such sentiment, Djokovic’s lawyers argued.
However, a panel of three judges rejected that argument, according to the newspaper. A lawyer for Hawke argued Sunday that Djokovic’s team could not possibly prove that the immigration minister had failed to consider the consequences of his decision.
The judges heard the case over five hours on Sunday and announced their verdict two hours later, ESPN reported.
Djokovic’s visa was first canceled on Jan. 6 by a border official who decided the Serb did not qualify for a medical exemption from Australia’s rules for unvaccinated visitors, The Associated Press reported. Djokovic was initially exempted from the tournament’s vaccine rules because he had been infected with the virus within the last six months.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic labeled the hearing “a farce with a lot of lies.”
“They think that they humiliated Djokovic with this 10-day harassment, and they actually humiliated themselves,” Vucic told reporters. “If you said that the one who was not vaccinated has no right to enter, Novak would not come or would be vaccinated.”
Vucic added that “we can’t wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome.”
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