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Djokovic confirms inaccuracy in entry paperwork, visa remains in jeopardy

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic rests at Melbourne Park as questions remain over the legal battle regarding his visa to play in the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

As the government considered whether to deport Novak Djokovic, he argued “human error” was to blame for a mistake on his Australian entry documents that violated the country’s rigorous requirements on reporting recent travel.

The news: After his visa was cancelled by border force officers, who questioned his medical exemption for a requirement to be vaccinated for COVID-19, Djokovic was held in immigration custody in Melbourne for many days.

  • He was released on Monday after a judge overturned the decision, ruling that the visa cancellation was “unreasonable” since the player was not given enough time to speak with lawyers and tennis officials before arriving in the country.
  • Djokovic stated on Wednesday that his support crew filled out his travel declaration and made an “administrative error” when they checked the “no” box when asked if he had travelled overseas in the 14 days leading up to his arrival in Australia.
  • In his Instagram post, Djokovic wrote, “This was human error and obviously not deliberate. We are living in difficult times in the midst of a global pandemic, and mistakes do happen.”

What’s going on: The announcement came as Australia’s Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, pondered cancelling the world number one tennis player’s visa ahead of the Australian Open, which begins on January 17.

  • Giving false or misleading information on the form is a crime punishable by up to 12 months in prison and a fine of up to A$6,600 ($4,730), as well as the possibility of the offender’s visa being revoked.
  • Djokovic, who is attempting to win a record 21st tennis major at the Open, said on Wednesday that his attorneys had presented the Australian authorities with further material.
  • Hawke’s spokesman said the consideration process would be extended to assess the additional material. Hawke has the discretionary option to revoke Djokovic’s visa again.
  • Djokovic’s case drew international attention, resulting in a spat between Canberra and Belgrade and igniting a debate about mandatory COVID-19 immunisation regulations.
  • Non-citizens and non-residents are barred from entering Australia unless they are completely vaccinated against COVID-19, but there is a medical exemption. Djokovic’s visa was revoked due to the fact that he had not been vaccinated and that his medical exemption was insufficient.
  • The court’s decision on Monday did not address whether Djokovic’s exemption, based on his contracting COVID-19 last month, was lawful.

What happened: When social media images appeared to show Djokovic in Belgrade less than two weeks before heading to Spain and then Australia, questions were raised about his whereabouts.

  • Djokovic, who practised at Melbourne Park again on Wednesday, did not mention his travel in his statement on Wednesday apologising for the error.
  • According to the government, the information assists in determining any quarantine requirements and allows health officials to contact people if a fellow traveller tests positive.

What they’re saying: In his statement, he also expressed regret for attending an L’Equipe interview and photoshoot on Dec 18, the day after learning he had tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time.

  • “While I returned home after the interview to isolate for the required period,” he explained, “on reflection, this was a mistake of judgement, and I agree that I should have rescheduled this obligation.”
  • Djokovic rejected accusations in the media that he knew he had got the virus when he went to a tennis event in Belgrade a day earlier to present awards to children.
  • “I was asymptomatic and feeling fine, and I didn’t find out about the positive PCR result until after the event,” he explained, adding that a quick antigen test performed prior to the event came back negative.
  • While Djokovic’s supporters claim he is being used as a scapegoat by Australian authorities, he is anticipated to confront a hostile crowd at the Open.

In Australia, where more than 90 per cent of the adult population has been doubly vaccinated and is confronting an Omicron wave of infections, public opinion has been largely against the player.

On Wednesday, a leaked video of two top-rated television news anchors criticising Djokovic off-air went viral on social media.

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