Novak Djokovic’s bid to get around rules requiring players at the Australian Open to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is still in limbo.
Two panels approved his request for a medical exemption in order to enter Victoria state – where the year’s first Grand Slam tennis tournament is held – based on having tested positive in the past six months for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
Djokovic’s visa was canceled by border officials when he arrived in Australia, before a judge overturned that and said the 34-year-old from Serbia could stay. As of Wednesday, Djokovic’s case was in the hands of Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, who has the power to reject the visa and make the top-ranked player leave the country.
Djokovic is a nine-time champion at the Australian Open, including each of the past three years. He owns 20 Grand Slam singles titles in all, tying him with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most won by a man in tennis history.
Here is a look at the timeline of events involving Djokovic’s trip to Australia, from a comment about COVID-19 vaccinations nearly two years ago to his attempts Wednesday to clarify some elements of the case in his first extensive comments about it:
April 2020: As the coronavirus pandemic rages, Djokovic issues a statement, saying, ”Personally I am opposed to the vaccination against COVID-19 in order to be able to travel. But if it becomes compulsory, I will have to make a decision whether to do it, or not.”
June 2020: With the professional tennis tours on hiatus because of the pandemic, Djokovic organizes a series of exhibition matches in Serbia and Croatia with no rules requiring social distancing or masking. The Adria Tour is called off after some players get COVID-19; Djokovic and his wife, Jelena, test positive.
Nov. 19, 2021: Confirming an edict made by the Victorian state government in late October, tournament director Craig Tiley says everyone at the 2022 Australian Open must be vaccinated for COVID-19. Djokovic’s vaccine status is unknown at the time.
Dec. 8, 2021: Victoria state Deputy Premier James Merlino says medical exemptions for the vaccine policy would not be ”a loophole for privileged tennis players” and would only be possible in ”exceptional circumstances, if you have an acute medical condition.”
Dec. 14, 2021: Djokovic attends a professional basketball game in Belgrade and is photographed hugging several players from both teams, including some who later tested positive.
Dec. 16, 2021: Djokovic tests positive for COVID-19 in Serbia, although that is not public knowledge until revealed by court documents in January. He later says he did not know the result until Dec. 17.
Dec. 17, 2021: Djokovic attends an event in Belgrade honoring youth tennis players. Parents post photos on social media showing Djokovic and the young players without masks. Djokovic later says he was asymptomatic, took an antigen test before the event that showed he was negative, and only received the positive PCR result after the event.
Dec. 18, 2021: Knowing he tested positive, Djokovic does an interview and photo shoot with the French newspaper L’Equipe. He acknowledges weeks later: ”On reflection, this was an error of judgement.”
Dec. 22, 2021: According to court documents, Djokovic tests negative for COVID-19 in Serbia.
Dec. 29, 2021: Djokovic withdraws from Serbia’s team for the ATP Cup, days before the competition is due to begin in Sydney. No reason is given.
Jan. 1, 2022: Tiley is asked in a TV interview about Djokovic’s status for the Australian Open and responds: ”There’s quite a bit to play out and I think it will play out in the coming days.”
Jan. 4, 2022: Djokovic posts on Instagram a photo of himself at an airport with a caption that reads, in part: ”I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission.” Tennis Australia follows with a statement confirming Djokovic is on his way to the country with a medical exemption ”granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.” Neither Djokovic nor Tennis Australia reveals the basis for his exemption. Tiley says a ”handful” of exemptions had been granted out of 26 applications from players or others. A public outcry bubbles up on social media among Australians while Djokovic’s flight to Melbourne is in the air.
Jan. 5, 2022: Djokovic arrives at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport.
Jan. 6, 2022: After being detained for about eight hours upon arrival, Djokovic is denied entry to the country and his visa is canceled. He is sent to an immigration hotel, where he remains for four nights. The Australian Border Force says Djokovic failed to meet entry requirements. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweets: ”Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders.”
Jan. 10, 2022: As part of his legal attempt to overturn the visa cancellation, Djokovic submits an affidavit that says he is not vaccinated for COVID-19. Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly reinstates Djokovic’s visa, ruling the player was not given enough time to speak to his lawyers before the decision to deny him entry was made at the airport. Kelly orders the government to release Djokovic from immigration detention. Hours later, Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park.
Jan. 11, 2022: With his status still uncertain, Djokovic is installed as the No. 1 seed for the men’s field at the Australian Open. The tournament strictly follows the current rankings in determining seedings and Djokovic is ranked No. 1; he has spent more weeks atop the ATP than any other man in the history of the men’s professional tour’s computerized rankings.
Jan. 12, 2022: Djokovic’s most extensive public comments on the matter come via a post on social media that is put up by someone while he is practicing at the Australian Open’s main stadium. He acknowledges a mistake on his travel declaration for Australia, which failed to indicate that he had been in multiple countries over the prior two weeks. Djokovic blames his agent for checking the wrong box on the form, calling it ”a human error and certainly not deliberate.” He also clarifies the timing of his positive COVID-19 test from December and subsequent whereabouts.
Jan. 13, 2022: The Australian Open draw is scheduled to be held, determining the men’s and women’s singles brackets for the tournament.
Jan. 17, 2022: Play is scheduled to begin at Melbourne Park. The men’s singles final is Jan. 30.
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