Tennis legend Novak Djokovic’s court papers have revealed the details of his case for staying in Australia and the early-hours wranglings with government officials after the arrival in Melbourne which launched his visa saga.
With the eyes of the world on the hearing that freed Novak Djokovic in an Australian court on Monday, the world number one’s sworn Affidavit has uncovered the details of his ordeal after he landed last week.
The 34-year-old had previously hit out at people for taking the “liberty” of asking him about his COVID vaccination status, which he said was a private matter.
Now the documents presented ahead of the ruling have told the world whether he had been vaccinated. Here are some of the key points.
Australian Border Force deemed Djokovic a risk
Operating under the Migration Act 1958, Australian Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews can cancel a visa if she is satisfied that a person poses a risk to the “health, safety or good order” of the nation or part of the Australian community.
The Australian Border Force (ABF) stated that unvaccinated people potentially “further burden” the country’s health system because they create a greater risk of contracting and spreading COVID to others.
Fewer than 2,400 of the estimated 5.5 million deaths from COVID around the world have been in Australia, where the government describes ensuring that unvaccinated people do not enter the country as a “key mechanism” in slowing the spread of the virus.
Djokovic contested the authority’s rulings that there were grounds to deport him because he is a risk, calling himself “surprised” that the government felt it had insufficient information about his right to exemption.
He said his medical exemption had been granted by an Independent Expert Medical Review panel commissioned by Australian Open organizers Tennis Australia (TA).
Djokovic surrendered his passport and vaccination status
On Tuesday January 4, Djokovic traveled to Melbourne from Spain via Dubai, arriving at around 11.30pm local time on January 5 with three of his coaches and support staff.
The group were asked to exit the plane before anyone else, says Djokovic, and were escorted to passport control, where he handed over his passport, which he claims he has not seen since.
At that point, the superstar who has remained tight-lipped about his vaccine status told officials that he had not been vaccinated, the papers show.
This is Djokovic at Melbourne Airport last night. I have spoken to the man who took this photo. He says Novak showed a bundle of papers to Border Force with Tennis Australia logos on it. It feels to me Djokovic legitimately felt like he had an exemption thanks to TA. @2GB873 pic.twitter.com/uOtSYyBOR7
— Chris O’Keefe (@cokeefe9) January 6, 2022
Djokovic made that disclosure under the requirements of the Biosecurity Act 2015, and explained that he had a medical exemption and gave the guards supporting documents which he had printed before leaving Spain.
That dossier comprised a visa which was granted on November 18 2021, a medical exemption dated December 30 2021, a travel declaration from January 1 and a Border Travel Permit dated to January 2.
Djokovic’s evidence was based on two COVID tests in December
Some of the debate around Djokovic has centered on when exactly he tested positive for COVID in December 2021 – and when he knew he had contracted the virus.
According to the evidence, Djokovic’s six-month exemption is based upon a positive PCR test he returned on December 16, issued by the Institute of Public Health of Serbia.
Documentation of Djokovic’s positive test for Covid-19 on December 16, 2021 https://t.co/WJGRaIzfQh
— Christopher Clarey 🇺🇸 🇫🇷 🇪🇸 (@christophclarey) January 10, 2022
He recorded a negative result on December 22 and says he “understood” that each country he enters during his globe-trotting career has requirements relating to measures to protect people against COVID risks.
Djokovic reiterated that he had made plans to head to the Australian Open on the understanding in December that his six-month exemption hinged on his previous positive test.
The nine-time tournament winner says the official interviewing him after he landed, referred to in the documents as ‘SR’, “did not appear to be very interested” in the test results, although they did copy them.
Djokovic also tested positive for COVID in June 2020 following his high-profile Adria Tour tournament.
Interviewers ordered Djokovic to turn his phone off
In the early hours of the morning local time, the interview involving Djokovic does not appear to have gone entirely smoothly.
Djokovic says he was under the impression that SR was talking to his superiors in the process when the grilling stopped to leave the interview room “on about six-to-eight occasions” about the documents and statements Djokovic had made.
“A couple of times, I spoke with a female ABF officer and asked her what was going on, why things were taking so long, and when she replied she would say they were on the line and they are just waiting,” he says in the papers.
The sporting icon says he started using his phone to tell his agent what was happening, only to be ordered after around 15 minutes to switch the phone off and put it in his tennis bag next to him.
SR gave Djokovic a notice of intention to consider canceling his visa shortly after 4am. “I made some comments,” he says, adding that he emphasized the exemption details.
Djokovic ‘did not understand what was happening’ during the interview
“SR signed the notice in front of me at about 4.11am,” says Djokovic.
“I did not sign it because I was confused and did not know what to do and I wanted advice from my lawyers.
“I did not understand what was happening and I did not understand why he was considering cancelling my visa. I was upset and confused.”
The transcript of the conversation shows that Djokovic had called the officials’ remarks “vague”.
“I am really failing to understand what else do you want me to provide to you,” he said.
“I have provided all the documents that Tennis Australia and Victorian government has asked me to do in the last three or four weeks, this is what we have been doing.
“I have been in a constant communication through my agent with Tennis Australia and Victorian state government, the medical panel… this is their set of rules that they have provided.
“So they have allowed to have the medical exemption for the COVID vaccination. I applied, they approved – I just really don’t know, what else do you want me to say?
“I have nothing else – I arrived here because of these documents, otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed to come in. I just really don’t understand what is the reason you don’t allow me to enter your country.”
“I have been waiting four hours and I still fail to understand what’s the main reason – like, lack of what papers? Lack of what information do you need?”
Djokovic told the official that he “needed some help” but was told he would not be able to speak to TA until 8am.
He says he was given 20 minutes to provide any further information which could affect the visa cancelation decision and had his phone returned to him so that he could make a call.
Djokovic called his lawyers and asked officials if they could speak to them directly. That request was refused, although Djokovic was told that his legal representative could ‘be present on the phone’ and listen to the interview.
At around 5am, SR left the room. “When he returned, and I believed without turning on the recorder again, he told me that they would grant me more time and they would review everything between 8am and 8.30am,” says Djokovic, who wanted to rest.
Officials pressed Djokovic for a decision when he tried to rest
With the interview ended at around 5am, Djokovic says he rested on a sofa in a corridor outside the room while he was told that a bed was being prepared for him in a separate room.
Two of SR’s superiors then asked him to confirm he wanted to rest and seek support until 8.30am.
Djokovic told them that his representatives would be sleeping, and he says he was told that he wouldn’t be able to appeal in a “hypothetical case” of his visa being canceled before a decision had been made.
According to Djokovic, the officials appear to have been trying to persuade him to make a quick decision and “do what they were saying” in order to hasten his onward journey and the engagement of his lawyers.
The Serbian hero was not keen on reaching what he felt would have been a rushed call, and subsequently headed to a bed that had been prepared.
“I lay down thinking I had time to consider my situation,” he recalls.
“I was mentally starting to slow down and was on the bed with headphones trying to sleep.”
Djokovic was woken up before being told his visa would be canceled
Djokovic says he was woken by SR and one of his superiors, who told him that he needed to make a decision that would allow his legal team to act accordingly.
“I felt like I had no choice,” he says of returning to the interview room at around 6am.
“I had to participate in the interview.”
He says he then realized that he would not be given until 8.30am to gather himself and seek advice.
Djokovic reiterated the details of his positive COVID tests and the exemption he therefore believes he is entitled to.
SR left the room and returned at around 7.40am, says Djokovic. “He then informed me that they had decided to cancel my visa and that I would be removed from Australia as an unlawful non-citizen.”
Djokovic added that he was “eventually” taken from the airport to the hotel where he had been detained before the hearing that freed him on Monday.
Header: Djokovic is a nine-time champion in Melbourne. © Getty Images