Novak Djokovic held up in Melbourne airport with visa issue after receiving vaccine exemption entry for Australian Open

Novak Djokovic has been held up by a visa error after landing in Australia amid a row over his medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination rules.

The tennis world number one, who has repeatedly refused to say whether he has been jabbed against coronavirus, confirmed on Tuesday he had received an exemption to allow him to compete in the Australian Open.

Trouble at the border

But on landing in Melbourne, Victoria, the 20-time grand slam winner was reportedly waiting for permission to enter the country after his team had applied for a visa that does not allow for medical exemptions for being unvaccinated.

Djokovic, 34, told he could be on ‘next plane home’ amid anger in Australia over vaccine exemption

When Border Force contacted government officials in Victoria to sponsor the visa, they refused to do so.

Australian media reported that the Serbian, who has won nine titles at Melbourne Park including the last three, was quizzed by Border Force officials in a room at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport upon landing.

“Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter,” Djokovic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, told the B92 internet portal. “In front of the room are two policemen.”

Acting sports minister Jaala Pulford confirmed the state government was not supporting his visa application to compete in the Australian Open.

Australian Border Force to decide

Meanwhile, home affairs minister Karen Andrews clarified in a statement that the Border Force would make the final determination.

It comes after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier said the tennis champion will be “on the next plane home” if he is unable to provide “acceptable proof” for a COVID vaccination exemption to play at the Australian Open.

“He has to because if he’s not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and to be able to access the same travel arrangements, as fully vaccinated travellers,” the leader added.

‘Slap in the face’

Rules in Victoria, where the tournament will begin on 17 January, stated players must be double-vaccinated against COVID.

Australians have called the decision to give the tennis star a medical exemption to enter the country “a slap in the face” after they endured months of harsh lockdowns.

But a possible explanation is that Djokovic contracted coronavirus for a second time at some point in the last six months, having previously caught it during his Adria Tour event in Belgrade in 2020.

That would negate the need for vaccination, according to rules published last year by one of two independent medical panels involved in the decision to grant him an exemption.

However, former Australian Rules player Kevin Bartlett tweeted that Australians “have been taken for fools”.

Another former AFL player Corey McKernan tweeted: “People with loved ones who are dying/some needing urgent treatment cannot get into their own states.

“You tell people they can’t go to Coles or a cafe without being vaxxed but if you’re world number one you get a pass?”

Sports journalist Andy Maher wrote on Twitter: “Australians have been denied for two years, but this bloke – who’s taken extraordinary liberties in the face of the coronavirus – gets his exemption.

“Novak Djokovic is an all-time great, but he ain’t essential.”

Only 26 people connected with the tournament applied for a medical exemption and just a “handful” – estimated to be around five – were granted, according to Australian Open boss Craig Tiley.

Djokovic is not obliged to make his exemption public.

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