Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under increasing pressure to make a swift decision on the controversy surrounding Novak Djokovic, as customs officials are reportedly investigating if the tennis star lied on his entry form into Australia.
Djokovic received a medical exemption to compete in this year’s first grand slam, but when he touched down in Melbourne last week he was told by the Australian Border Force he had insufficient evidence to prove his exemption was justified and was denied entry to the country.
The cancellation of Djokovic’s visa was dramatically overturned in the Federal Circuit Court on Monday, but the federal government says it has the power to cancel his visa again and is still considering whether to detain him.
Labor Senator Kristina Keneally said the Morrison government needed to make a quick decision.
“Scott Morrison tried to blame the Victorian government, he tried to blame Tennis Australia. But understand this: only the federal government can issue a visa,” she told 7 News.
“They should have been clear about what his vaccination status was, and whether or not he was safe to enter the country. They got themselves into this mess, they’re going to have to get themselves out.”
Keneally said the situation reflected badly on Australia regardless of where things ended up. She later told Sky News that there could be diplomatic fallout from the saga.
Morrison’s office today said he had a “constructive call” with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić after Serbia called for a “human and dignified” treatment of Djokovic.
“The PM explained our non-discriminatory border policy and its role in protecting Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic,” a statement from Morrison’s office said.
“They both agreed to stay in contact on the issue, and to further strengthening the bilateral relationship.”
Investigation into Djokovic's travel declaration
Meanwhile, Questions are being asked about the information Novak Djokovic provided on his Australian Travel Declaration as he waits to find out whether the Federal Immigration Minister will allow him to stay in the country.
The Herald Sun reports Australian Border Force officials are investigating if the tennis star lied on his entry form to come into Australia.
In a late twist on Tuesday, Djokovic faced allegations of travelling from Serbia to Spain in the 14 days before he flew to Australia last week. On his Travel Declaration form — which formed part of court documents released on Monday — the 20-time major champion ticked a box saying he had not travelled, and was not planning to travel, in the 14 days prior to his flight Down Under.
A statement on the form reads: “Note: Giving false or misleading information is a serious offence. You may also be liable to a civil penalty for giving false or misleading information.”
On its website, the Home Affairs Department warns that giving false or misleading information to the government is “a serious offence”.
“If convicted, the maximum penalty is imprisonment for 12 months,” it says.
Djokovic flew from Spain to Dubai on January 4, then boarded a flight from Dubai to Melbourne on January 5.
On December 25, Serbian handball player Petar Djordjic posted a photo alongside Djokovic on Instagram, writing: “ONE AND ONLY!!!!! Thank you for the picture and for the nice wishes.”
Tennis commentator Jose Morgado said the pair were in Belgrade for the snap. However, while the photo was posted on December 25, there is no proof it was taken on the same day.
Other videos have emerged on social media alleging Djokovic was playing street tennis in Serbia over Christmas last month.
Multiple reports emerged in international media in early January saying Djokovic was in Spain preparing for the Australian Open, which starts next week.
In late December and early January the Soto Tennis Academy, based in Sotogrande in Spain, uploaded several videos to its official Twitter page showing Djokovic was practising there.
On January 1, the Academy posted a video where Djokovic wished people a happy new year.
On January 4, the Tennis Head website reported: “Djokovic is still training in Marbella, Spain on the same surface and with the official balls for the Australian Open.”
Djokovic bought a house in Marbella, on the south coast of Spain, in 2020, reportedly making the move from his previous base in Monte Carlo on the French Riviera.
Marbella is about a 45-minute drive from Sotogrande.
Tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg said if Djokovic went from Belgrade on December 25 to Spain, then landed in Australia last week, it would suggest he had travelled in the 14 days before flying to Melbourne.
“More document trouble for Novak Djokovic,” Rothenberg tweeted. “On his Australian Travel Declaration, released by federal (circuit) court yesterday, Djokovic stated he had NOT travelled in 14 days prior to his Jan 6 arrival here.
“In fact, Djokovic had travelled from Belgrade to Spain within that time.”
Australian journalist Karen Sweeney tweeted: “There’s fresh questions over Novak Djokovic’s Australian Travel Declaration — in which he declared he hadn’t travelled in the 14 days before he flew to Australia on Jan 5. He was seen playing Tennis in Serbia on Dec 25, and training in Spain on Jan 2.”
'Djokovic is not a threat to Australian society'
Earlier, Davis Cup winner and retiring Australian Federal MP John Alexander said the Australian government should not interfere in the Djokovic case.
“The judge has been abundantly clear in his findings and his comments around the finding, saying… ‘what more could this man have done’ to meet the criteria that had been set down,” Alexander told ABC radio.
“It was a pretty emphatic decision. The Minister does have the right to overrule that, but it would appear that Djokovic is not a threat to Australian society.”
Alexander felt it would be a mistake for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to use his discretionary powers to deport Djokovic and said “this is something that should not become a political problem. It is not political at this point.”
Djokovic’s lawyers have argued that the tennis star did “absolutely everything” that was required of him to enter the country.
It was revealed in legal submissions the unvaccinated player received a positive Covid test on December 16 and Tennis Australia’s top doctor granted him a medical exemption on December 30 on the grounds he had recently recovered from the virus.
That revelation has sparked burning questions about Djokovic’s behaviour after he knew he was infected.
On December 16, Djokovic received a commemorative stamp in his honour at an event hosted by the Serbian National Postal Service. The tennis star later shared photos of the event on social media.
Djokovic also attended an awards ceremony at the Novak Tennis Centre in Belgrade on December 17. Multiple photos on social media show the 34-year-old posing for photos with children without wearing a mask.
French newspaper L’Équipe revealed Djokovic posed without a mask during a photoshoot on December 18.
Djokovic’s family members — father Srdjan, mother Dijana and brother Djordje — were asked about that matter at a press conference in Belgrade overnight. A reporter said: “Was he at an event on the 17th of December in Belgrade?”
Djordje gave a wry smile and shut the press conference down. “So, ah, this press conference is adjourned at the moment,” he said.
There were plenty of people critical of Djokovic once it became clear he knew he was positive on December 16.
Sports journalist Todd Balym tweeted: “Court documents show Novak Djokovic got his positive Covid test results shortly after 8pm on Dec 16 — so he knew he was Covid positive visiting kids & others the next 2 days.”
Sports journalist Michael Hincks said: “How do Novak Djokovic fans explain/defend his Dec 17 and 18 actions at a ceremony with children and interview with L’Equipe if he recorded a positive PCR test on Dec 16?”
BBC presenter Adil Ray added: “Djokovic got Covid then apparently carried on as normal, hugging children. Unless his team can explain that, he should not be allowed to play tennis in a country where borders have been closed and families kept apart. He is not an exception.”
New Zealand cricket star Jimmy Neesham tweeted: “If this is true … absolutely disgraceful.”
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