Novak Djokovic of Serbia and his physiotherapist Ulises Badio are seen during a practice session on Tuesday ahead of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Scott Barbour/Tennis Australia via EPA-EFE
Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Australian authorities are investigating tennis star Novak Djokovic over his declaration that he didn't travel anywhere for two weeks before he went to Australia hoping to compete in the sport's first Grand Slam event of 2022.
The Australian Border Force is looking into Djokovic's immediate travel history before he arrived in Australia. As part of Australia's COVID-19 regulations, travelers cannot enter the country if they'd traveled anywhere else in the immediate preceding two-week period.
On his declaration form, Djokovic answered "no" when asked, "Have you traveled or will you travel in the 14 days prior to your flight to Australia?"
Officials are looking into the declaration because Djokovic's social media posts seem to indicate that he had indeed traveled -- to his native Serbia -- during that key time period. He arrived in Melbourne from Spain on Jan. 5.
The investigation is the latest in what's turned into a major saga involving Djokovic's travel to the country to compete in the Australian Open, which is the first major tennis tournament on the calendar. His visa was originally canceled because he isn't vaccinated against COVID-19 and officials questioned whether his exemption -- that he'd had COVID-19 and recovered recently -- was valid.
There are also reports that Djokovic's positive COVID-19 test, which is the basis of his vaccine exemption, may be questionable. Persons who recover from COVID-19 have antibodies that help fight off the disease, which is why it's sometimes recognized by private businesses or governments as an alternative to being vaccinated.
Earlier Tuesday, the Australian Open released its official seeding for the upcoming tournament and gave Djokovic the No. 1 seed on the men's side, despite the fact that he could still be deported.
The 34-year-old Serbian was detained and had his entry visa revoked last week for attempting to enter the country in violation of Australia's strict immigration and COVID-19 rules.
Djokovic, a vaccine skeptic, mounted a legal challenge arguing that he was exempt from the vaccine requirement as he recently contracted and recovered from the virus. Initially, his exemption was accepted but public backlash prompted authorities to later revoke his visa. A judge reinstated his visa on Monday, but immigration minister Alex Hawke is considering canceling the visa a second time and forcing Djokovic to leave the country.
On Tuesday, Hawke's office said he has yet to make a decision.
"As noted yesterday in the Federal Circuit and Family Court, Minister Hawke is considering whether to cancel Mr. Djokovic's visa under section 133c (3) of the Migration Act," the spokesperson said. "In line with due process, Minister Hawke will thoroughly consider the matter."
The spokesman added that for legal reasons, "it is inappropriate to comment further."
If his visa gets canceled again, the tournament would have to re-seed -- and Djokovic, who's won three consecutive Australian Opens, would be barred from entering the country for three years.
Earlier Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke with his Serbian counterpart about the matter.
"The PM explained our non-discriminatory border policy and its role in protecting Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic," a statement from his office on the call with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said. "They both agreed to stay in contact and to further strengthening the bilateral relationship."
Meanwhile, Australian opposition leader Anthony Albanese lambasted the prime minister, saying the situation has resulted in "a great international embarrassment for Australia," SBS reported.
"It is one that could have been avoided had there been a clear decision made prior to any visa being granted," he told reporters.
The Association of Tennis Professionals welcomed the court's decision to restore Djokovic's visa, but also called for greater clarity in the immigration process.
"Complications in recent days related to player entry into Australia have however highlighted the need for clearer understanding, communication and application of the rules,'' the ATP said in a statement.
"The series of events leading to Monday's court hearing have been damaging on all fronts, including for Novak's well-being and preparation for the Australian open. We welcome the outcome of Monday's hearing and look forward to an exciting few weeks of tennis ahead."
The global governing body of men's tennis said 97 of its top 100 players are vaccinated ahead of the Australian tournament, which is scheduled to begin on Jan. 17 and run through Jan. 30.