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Djokovic's legal battle over vaccine exemption

The men’s number 1 tennis player has been denied entry to Australia for not complying with the vaccination mandate. He has won the last three Australian opens but may not be able to defend his title this year.

So what happened?

In order to gain quarantine-free entry into Australia, travellers must comply with the definition of “fully vaccinated” set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization. According to this definition, only people who have received two doses of a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)-approved or TGA-recognised vaccine are considered fully vaccinated.

Under Australia’s federal system, states can grant exemptions from vaccination requirements to enter their jurisdiction. Tennis Australia officials and the Victoria state government (the state where the Australian Open is being held) had previously granted Djokovic an exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination rules in place, that would allow him to compete in the Australian Open.

So why was his VISA revoked?

It is believed the medical exemption was initially requested and approved on the basis that Djokovic had contracted the virus in the previous six months. This exemption is in place for people whose immune system needs time to recover from a COVID infection before being exposed to vaccination. In order to be eligible for this exemption, one must be able to show proof of a recent (last six months) infection through a positive PCR test.

However, international borders are controlled by the federal government and they can challenge or require additional proof of eligibility for such exemptions on arrival, as was the case here. The Australian border Force revoked Djokovic’s visa upon arrival in Melbourne. According to Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, the problem at stake had more to do with the documentation to prove his exemption rather than the issuance of the visa itself.

What now?

Djokovic’s legal team has filed an appeal today against the last-minute rejection of his visa and the case will be heard in an emergency court hearing on Monday, allowing Djokovic to remain in the country until then. His legal team is most likely to argue that the player was unaware of the exact corroborating evidence required to enter the country as his participation in the Australian Open had previously been approved by Tennis Australia who handled the application for him. Additionally, it seems that several other tennis players were allowed to enter the country providing the exact same documentation and level of evidence for his exemption.

Possible outcomes

With the tournament starting in exactly 10 days, the best-case scenario for Djokovic is of course be to get his visa reinstated after a second review of the case but this is unlikely unless he receives preference treatment for being the star he is. Another possible and favorable outcome for Djokovic would be for the judge to hear his case on Monday and grant an interlocutory (temporary) injunction.

Since legal proceedings take time, especially when different state policies and politics are involved, a temporary suspension of deportation is possible and this would thus allow for Djokovic to stay in the country and participate in the Australian Open.

Djokovic has openly spoken about his skepticism and views regarding the vaccination mandates, which has sparked certain controversy. To be continued….

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