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Tennis star Novak Djokovic deported from Australia after losing final visa battle

Tennis star Novak Djokovic deported from Australia after losing final visa battle
Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic departs from the Park Hotel government detention facility before attending a court hearing at his lawyer's office in Melbourne, Australia on Sunday. Photo by James Ross/EPA-EFE

Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic was deported Sunday after losing an 11th-hour bid in an Australian federal court to save his chances to compete in the Australian Open after refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Australian federal court unanimously found that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke was within his legal rights to cancel Djokovic's visa for the second time Friday on the grounds that the tennis star's views on vaccines posed a risk to the public health and "good order" of the country.

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Djokovic has won nine Australian Open titles, including the past three, and was seeking a record 21st Grand Slam title. He is tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

After the hearing, Djokovic issued a statement expressing that he was "deeply disappointed" by the court's decision and was later deported from the country on an Emirates flight to Dubai, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

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"I am extremely disappointed with the court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the Minister's decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open," Djokovic said. "I respect the court's ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country."

Djokovic, 34, also said that he was "uncomfortable" that he had been the focus of attention during the 10-day saga, which was closely followed by those who both support and oppose vaccines, and said he would be "taking some time to rest and to recuperate."

"I hope that we can all now focus on the tournament I love," Djokovic said. "I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament."

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Hawke confirmed that Djokovic had left Australia in a statement, in which he praised the decision of the court.

"I welcome today's unanimous decision by the full federal court of Australia, upholding my decision to exercise my power under the Migration Act to cancel Mr. Novak Djokovic's visa in the public interest," Hawke said.

"Australia's strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world."

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The televised hearing Sunday was requested by Djokovic's lawyers because of the looming competition. It was held before a three-judge panel, making the decision of the court binding, while tens of thousands of people worldwide tuned in to the livestream.

During the hearing, Djokovic's lawyer Nick Wood argued at length that Hawke had not considered the consequences for preventing Djokovic from competing by cancelling his visa, and that the act of expelling his client from the country itself "might act to generate anti-vaccination sentiment."

His lawyers also argued that Hawke could not have known Djokovic's current views on vaccination, despite previous comments the tennis star had made in April 2020 that he was "opposed to vaccination," as reported by the BBC.

Lawyers for Hawke argued that Wood's charge that the minister had not considered the consequences of the decision to expel Djokovic as moot.

"The Commonwealth ought not be bound to suffer the presence of an alien for fear of what might occur if they were removed, which is in essence what the applicant's case requires," said Stephen Lloyd, the government lawyer for Hawke.

The Association of Tennis Professionals, the governing body for professional tennis, said in a statement after the ruling that it was continuing to "strongly recommend vaccination to all players."

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"Today's decision to uphold Novak Djokovic's Australian visa cancellation marks the end of a deeply regrettable series of events. Ultimately, decisions of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected," the statement reads.

"More time is required to take stock of the facts and to take the learnings from this situation. Irrespective of how this point has been reached, Novak is one of our sport's greatest champions and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for the game."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison echoed Hawke's comments in a statement after the ruling, saying that he welcomed "the decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe" and that "strong borders are fundamental to the Australian way of life as is the rule of law."

"Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected," Morrison said. "Over the pandemic, together we have achieved one of the lowest death rates, strongest economies and highest vaccination rates, in the world."

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