SYDNEY – With coronavirus ravaging his country, leaving hospitals full and supermarket shelves empty, and an election looming this year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison thought he could score a quick victory by deporting tennis superstar Novak Djokovic.
Instead, Morrison was smashed – again.
An Australian judge on Monday ordered the immediate release of the 20-time Grand Slam champion, who had been detained at a hotel since last Thursday when officials canceled his visa after he arrived in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open without a COVID vaccine.
The Serbian player, a well-known vaccine skeptic, had demanded a medical exemption from Australia’s mandatory vaccination rules for incoming travelers on the grounds that he had recently recovered from COVID after being tested positive on 16 December. Djokovic said tournament organizer Tennis Australia had told him the exemption had been approved, that the Australian Border Force had canceled his visa on arrival citing public health reasons.
Although Djokovic may have won the first set, the match is not over. Under Australia’s notoriously tough border rules, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke could use his personal power to cancel the tennis star’s visa if he considers it in the public interest – and potentially prevent the world’s No. 1 player from re-entering the country. next three more years.
Now Morrison, who has spent years create a reputation as an immigration-hard-liner, stuck in a no-win situation: back and allow Djokovic to stay in Australia and play in the tournament (just imagine the press conferences after the match!), Or deport the Serb and be accused of leading a kangaroo court – and calls for Australia to be deprived of the lucrative Grand Slam, which starts this year on 17 January.
Why did Australia choose this match? Djokovic? Bad optics – and a classic case of wrong place, wrong time.
Melbourne, home of the Australian Open, has endured one of the world’s longest lockdowns, with residents spending more than 260 days under severe restrictions during the pandemic. At the same time, Australians around the country – and the globe – were separated from their loved ones after the government implemented a COVID plan called “Fortress Australia.”
So Australians were not in the mood for a tone-deaf Instagram post last week where “Djoker” wrote: “I have spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones during the break, and today I am taking the course Down Under with a dispensation permit. Let’s go 2022 !! ”
After an initial flurry of bad headlines and an outcry on social media, center-right Morrison responded to Djokovic’s post by shifting the blame for the decision to let him enter Australia to the center-left government in the state of Victoria.
But as the outrage erupted, Morrison, a politician with a populist buoy and a nose for what plays well in the press, turned.
“Mr Djokovic’s visa has been canceled,” Morrison announced a day later, taking credit for the move. “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders,” he added. “No one is above those rules. Our strong border policies have been crucial to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we continue to be vigilant. “
Asked by reporters whether Djokovic had been unfairly appointed, given reports other unvaccinated tennis players had been allowed to enter the country before the champion’s detention, Morrison said: “When you get people to make public statements about what they say they have and what they want to do and what their claims are , they draw considerable attention to themselves. ”
He added: “Anyone who does – whether they’re a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player, a journalist, whoever they do – can expect to be asked more questions than others before you. That’s how the Border Force is. They are not highlighted at all. “
Translation: It was the Instagram post.
Morrison must have expected a quick victory – Djokovic would not have been the first public figure Australia was deported in response to a public outcry that followed in the footsteps of right-wing extremist British commentator Katie Hopkins, American rapper Tyler, the creator and American “pick-up artist” Julien blanc.
But Djokovic lawyer and returned serve. In Melbourne on Monday, Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly sided with the tennis star and the Australian government was forced to admit that Djokovic had not been given enough time to respond to the announcement that it intended to cancel his visa. “We all play by the same rules” The judge said in a pointed reference to Morrison’s line “rules are rules” and added: “Pronounced in other words: these rules were not complied with.”
Responding to his victory, Djokovic tweeted: “I am happy and grateful that the judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete … I stay focused on it. I flew here to play for one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans. “He added:” At the moment I can not say more, but THANK YOU to all of you for standing with me through all this and encouraged me to stay strong. “
Australians will vote in one federal elections some time this year, and according to the latest News survey, the prime minister is on the verge of losing – even though opinion polls predicted the same outcome in the last election that Morrison ended up winning.
Still, Morrisons is “daggy far”Act is noticeably starting to get thinner. He has been accused with slinging out a new “let it tear” COVID policy that has seen the health care system and supply chains tighten during an intense Omicron-driven wave of the pandemic. He has been branded a liar by French President Emmanuel Macron over his handling of the AUKUS defense pact with the United States and Britain
And now Morrison has been persuaded by Djokovic.
Play, set… match?