Novak Djokovic could be arrested on a tennis court by armed Border Force officers in front of the world’s media if his visa was to be cancelled again, a high ranking former immigration department official has warned.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion is coming under increasing scrutiny, days after winning a court case which overruled a Border Force decision to cancel his visa amid uncertainties over a Covid vaccine exemption.
His appearance at the Australian Open is now becoming more unlikely by the hour, as questions are raised about alleged inconsistencies in a recent statement about his previous Covid infection – which was the basis of his exemption – as well as an error on his border declaration form.
‘The cancellation notice (would be) taken by Australian Border Force (officers) who usually dress in very, very dark uniforms and often carry guns turning up to Mr Djokovic’s hotel or on the tennis court,’ Abul Rizvi, a former Immigration Department Deputy Secretary, said on Wednesday night.
The decision on whether to revoke Djokovic’s visa again was further delayed on Wednesday after his team produced ‘lengthy’ submissions as well as documents supporting his case – but a final call is due to be made on Thursday.
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Novak Djokovic’s moments in the weeks before he flew to Australia, after testing positive to Covid on December 16, are coming under increasing scrutiny (pictured, the tennis champion at a training session in Melbourne on Wednesday)
It is understood the government is still preparing a case to revoke his visa and seek deportation, with a source telling the Herald Sun letting him stay in Australia could set a ‘dangerous precedent’.
Officials are said to be willing to suffer international backlash over the issue, as well as potentially violent scenes by supporters in Melbourne, as a decision to let him stay could go against ‘ongoing efforts to control the spread of Covid’.
In a stark warning over how serious border officials could take the issue, Mr Rizvi told Channel 10’s The Project how a visa cancellation process could play out.
‘Taking Mr Djokovic away from the tennis court, most probably in the glare of the world’s media to a detention centre where Mr Djokovic would remain whilst he sought any application for judicial or other review processes,’ he said.
‘There is no easy option here. Cancellation is difficult and not cancelling is difficult.’
If this happened it could mean Djokovic could be held in detention in Melbourne while the Australian Open goes on without the star attraction of the world’s top ranked player – a nightmare scenario for Tennis Australia and a potential PR disaster for the Australian Government.
THE THREE ‘INCONSISTENCIES’ IN NOVAK DJOKOVIC’S STORY
1. WHEN DID THE WORLD NO. 1 FIND OUT HE WAS POSITIVE? AND WAS HIS COVID TEST MANIPULATED?
There are serious questions about when the anti-vaxxer learned of his positive Covid test. A sworn affidavit to the Federal Circuit Court claimed the tennis star was ‘tested and diagnosed’ for Covid on December 16.
This contradicts his Instagram statement on Wednesday, after pictures emerged of the Serbian star at an event in Belgrade on December 17 presenting awards to children without a mask.
He said he only learned of his positive test shortly after the meet and greet.
Djokovic was told he could fly into Melbourne on the basis he tested positive to the virus in Serbia on December 16 and then negative six days later.
But German publication Der Spiegel claims when its reporter entered the QR code for his December 16 test into the official Serbian health database at 1.19pm on Monday, the result came back negative.
An hour later at 2.33pm, the scan returned a positive result – in what could simply be a quirk of the system.
A negative result would have invalidated Djokovic’s claim to enter Australia on a temporary working visa for the tournament.
2. DJOKOVIC BREACHED COVID ISOLATION RULES IN SERBIA
The 34-year-old disclosed he had attended an event with children while he was Covid positive, but claimed he didn’t know he was infected until afterwards.
He had taken a PCR test the day before and was awaiting results, but said he tested negative to a rapid antigen test so went along.
Djokovic has been the subject of intense scrutiny for presenting awards to kids at an event in Belgrade on December 17 – a day after recording a positive result for the virus.
The Serbian maintained he was not aware of his diagnosis until shortly after but did admit to conducting an in-person interview with French newspaper L’Équipe knowing he was positive.
He called his decision to go ahead with the Q and A an ‘error in judgement’ but said he maintained social distancing and wore a mask.
Under Serbian law, where anyone Covid positive must isolate for 14 days, such a breach can carry a maximum sentence of three years behind bars.
3. THE TENNIS STAR PROVIDED FALSE INFORMATION ON HIS DECLARATION FORM AND TO THE COURT
Djokovic is alleged to have written incorrect information on his landing card telling Border Force he had not travelled in the past 14 days despite visiting Spain.
He later said this was an administrative mistake make by his agent, who ‘ticked the incorrect box’.
He also declared he was ‘tested and diagnosed’ for Covid on December 16 in a court document but now says he learnt of his positive test on December 17.
Djokovic, who is a vaccine sceptic, attempted to address a number of concerns about the situation in a lengthy statement posted to his Instagram page on Wednesday, but several questions still remain.
Of most concern to Australian officials is Djokovic’s admitted breach of Serbia’s isolation rules after learning he had tested positive and the false information he provided on his travel entry form, which he later blamed on his agent and called an ‘administrative error’.
Lingering mystery also surrounds when the 20-time Grand Slam winner actually learned he had Covid with a German publication sowing doubt on the timing of his PCR test after QR Code information was uncovered that ‘did not match up’.
While this could be a quirk of Serbia’s reporting system, it has cast doubts on Djokovic’s claims he tested positive on December 16.
Novak Djokovic (pictured) trains in front of the press for the first time on Wednesday after his Australian visa was revoked and then reinstated – but the bureaucratic wrangle is far from over
Former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration Abul Rizvi (pictured) says Novak Djokovic could be arrested while playing tennis in front of the world’s media
The 34-year-old disclosed he had attended an event with children the next day while he was Covid positive, but said he didn’t know he was infected until afterwards.
Djokovic has been the subject of intense scrutiny for presenting awards to children at an event in Belgrade on December 17 – a day after recording a positive result for the virus.
The Serbian star said he was not aware of his diagnosis until shortly after but did admit to conducting an in-person interview with French newspaper L’Équipe knowing he was positive.
He called his decision to go ahead with the Q and A an ‘error in judgement’ but said he maintained social distancing and wore a mask except while being photographed.
The controversial tennis player (pictured with his wife Jelena) could be arrested at gunpoint by Australian Border Force officers, a former immigration official has warned
The tennis ace is also in hot water for various inconsistencies on his Australian declaration form.
Djokovic falsely said he had not travelled to any in the 14 days prior to arriving in Melbourne, but it was later revealed he had been in Spain.
‘This was submitted by my support team on my behalf – as I told immigration officials on my arrival,’ he said.
‘My agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia.’
Djokovic said the mistake was a ‘human error’ and in a pandemic ‘sometimes these mistakes can occur’.
Mr Rizvi says there is furious political planning on what to do next going on behind the scenes at a very high level.
The Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke (pictured) is expected to make a decision about Djokovic’s visa on Thursday
‘No public servants should be involved because at this point I suspect all of the discussions are about the politics and the optics,’ he said.
The former official says there are discussions going on between various ministers and the Prime Minister’s office and that they are looking beyond cancelling Djokovic’s visa purely on character grounds.
‘To cancel on character grounds, that sounds a little flimsy to me,’ he said.
‘A more likely consideration is that I understand under Serbian law, a contravention of the health orders can be subject to a jail sentence of up to three years.
‘Now the problem there is that Mr Djokovic has not yet been sentenced. So the government may well be jumping the gun if it wants to go down a character cancellation route.’
Mr Rizvi said that even if Djokovic was detained again, it would not be the end of the line.
‘Having cancelled the visa, you take them into detention, they then have appeal rights and once they’ve exhausted those, then they can be removed from the country.’
He said while there is no time limit for the immigration minister Alex Hawke to make his decision on Djokovic’s visa, it would be better to do so soon.
‘He can make that decision in his own time. He could in fact wait months to make the decision if he wished.
‘But I think that would be quite unfair to Mr Djokovic given that he’s trying to prepare for the Australian Open.
‘I think the minister would be subject to quite some criticism if he delayed in that way,’ Mr Rizvi said.
Andy Murray (pictured) has said Novak Djokovic has some questions to answer about his visa debacle
The former official said maintaining Australia’s strict border policy has become more difficult due to the Djokovic situation.
‘I think what’s happened in this particular case is that we’ve had a really bad process that operated until the fifth of January (when Djokovic was detained), it then changed on the sixth of January (when his visa was initially cancelled).
‘What it tells us is if we can implement an effective and efficient process whereby if people are applying to come to Australia and need to be vaccinated, we deal with that … before we grant them the visa, before they can come into the country,’ he said.
‘Trying to deal with these sorts of issues after they’ve come into the country is really poor practice and runs against 30 years of immigration system development.’
Serbian tennis fans (pictured) march along Collins Street, Melbourne on Monday in support of the star. Similar scenes would likely erupt if his visa were to be cancelled again
Fans (pictured) of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic rally in Melbourne’s CBD on Monday after his visa cancellation was dismissed – but the legal drama is far from over
Speaking at a press conference for the Sydney Tennis Classic on Wednesday, Scotland’s Andy Murray said Djokovic has ‘questions to answer’, while Hungarian player Marton Fucsovics went further, saying he should not be in Australia.
At first, Murray welcomed the Serbian sportsman’s release from immigration detention, which saw him confined to a cheap hotel, rather than the five star luxury he is accustomed to.
‘It’s positive that he’s not in detention any more,’ Murray said. ‘Obviously he won in court, so that’s a positive thing for him. Hopefully [he] will be able to concentrate on the tennis now,’ he said.
But then the Scot questioned some of the decisions Djokovic has made around Covid-19 in the past month.
Marton Fucsovics of Hungary (pictured) says Novak Djokovic should not even be in Australia
‘You know, I think there are still a few questions that need to be answered around the isolation and stuff, which I’m sure we’ll hear from him in the next few days.’
Hungarian player Marton Fucsovics said Djokovic should not even be in Australia.
‘We must not go beyond what is happening in the world now,’ Fucsovics said, speaking with Hungarian TV channel M1.
‘People’s health is paramount, and there are rules that were outlined months ago, namely that everyone should vaccinate themselves, and Djokovic didn’t.
‘From this point of view, I don’t think he would have the right to be here,’ Fucsovics, 29, said.
DJOKOVIC COMES CLEAN ABOUT HIS COVID-19 TESTS AND AUSTRALIAN VISA DEBACLE
I want to address the continuing misinformation about my activities and attendance at events in December in the lead-up to my positive Covid test result.
This is misinformation which needs to be corrected, particularly in the interest of alleviating broader concern in the community about my presence in Australia, and to address matters which are very hurtful and concerning to my family.
I want to emphasise that I have tried very hard to ensure the safety of everyone and my compliance with testing obligations.
I attended a basketball game in Belgrade on 14 December after which it was reported that a number of people tested positive to Covid-19.
Despite having no Covid symptoms, I took a rapid antigen test on 16 December which was negative, and out of an abundance of caution, also took an official and approved PCR test on that same day.
The next day I attended a tennis event in Belgrade to present awards to children and took a rapid antigen test before going to the event, and it was negative.
I was asymptomatic and felt good, and I had not received the notification of a positive PCR test until after that event.
The next day, on 18 December I was at my tennis centre in Belgrade to fulfil a long-standing commitment for a L’Équipe interview and photoshoot. I cancelled all other events except for the L’Equipe interview.
I felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L’Équipe interview as I didn’t want to let the journalist down, but did ensure I socially distanced and wore a mask except when my photograph was taken.
Novak Djokovic (pictured) is used to making headlines, but even he may find the current spotlight he is under in Australia a little too much
When I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was an error of judgment and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment.
On the issue of my travel declaration, this was submitted by my support team on my behalf – as I told immigration officials on my arrival – and my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia.
This was a human error and certainly not deliberate. We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur. Today, my team has provided additional information to the Australian government to clarify this matter.
While I felt it was important to address and clarify misinformation I will not be making any further comment out of utmost respect for the Australian government and their authorities and the current process.
It was always an honour and a privilege to play in the Australian Open. The Australian Open is much-loved by players, fans and the community, not just in Victoria and in Australia but around the globe, and I just want to have the opportunity to compete against the best players in the world and perform before one of the best crowds in the world.