The Australian Open could be thrown into further disarray with the home affairs minister, Karen Andrews, revealing other international players and officials are being investigated after Novak Djokovic’s visa was cancelled.
Andrews also defended the government’s treatment of Djokovic, who is in a Melbourne detention hotel waiting for a legal hearing, rejecting his family’s accusation the government was “keeping him captivity”.
“Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia,” Andrews told the ABC on Friday morning. “He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and border force will actually facilitate that.”
Andrews confirmed the Australian Border Force, which she oversees, is looking at other individuals who have travelled to Australia in similar circumstances for the Open.
“I will be briefed further on that potentially today,” she told the Nine Network.
“But we do have the intelligence to indicate there are some individuals here now that have not met the entry requirements and we have to investigate that.”
Andrews could not say how many players were being investigated, adding anyone entering Australia had to show evidence of vaccination or medical reasons why they are not vaccinated.
“I know there is a lot of chatter about the visa. The visa, on my understanding, is not the issue, it is the entry requirement.
“The [Australian] Border Force has been very clear that he [Novak] was not able to meet the requirement to provide the evidence he needed for entry to Australia.”
The world No 1 faces another three days in the Park Hotel alongside refugees and asylum seekers in Melbourne amid one of the great modern sports controversies, waiting for a legal ruling over whether he can defend the Australian crown he’s won nine times.
Beyond the quiet of his hotel, the outcry in his native Serbia over the treatment of Djokovic is growing with protests in Belgrade and his family insisting Australia’s treatment of one of sport’s greatest performers was a disgrace.
In Serbia, where Djokovic is idolised as a nation hero, his family held a rally in front of the country’s parliament building in the capital Belgrade, with around 300 fans chanting slogans backing him.
His father Srdjan promised the crowd the protests would be held every day until Djokovic was released.
Nearer to home, former Davis Cup player Paul McNamee who ran the Australian Open from 1995 until 2006 as tournament director, joined those who think the 34-year-old deserved his day on court, not in court.
“It’s not fair. The guy played by the rules, he got his visa, he arrives, he’s a nine-time champion and whether people like it or not he’s entitled to fair play,” McNamee told ABC News.
“There’s no doubt there’s some disconnect between the state and the federal government. I hate to think politics are involved but it feels that way.”
Djokovic had travelled to Australia after Victoria state authorities granted him an exemption to the vaccination rules but on arrival on Thursday morning the ABF cancelled his visa.
A court hearing to attempt to stop his deportation is set for Monday. Djokovic is being detained at a secure hotel used more often by immigration officials to house asylum seekers and refugees.
“He is the only player that I’ve ever known in the history of the Australian Open that has had his visa rescinded,” McNamee said.
“Players need to know with confidence that if they’re flying round the world to events, there’s not going to be this sort of problem at entry. It’s a problem we’ve seen over the last two years in Australia and the victim of that is the No 1 player in the world.
“He was following the rules. Now you might be angry that he was given an exemption, but players need to have confidence that the rules they abide by are going to be enforced.
“It’s not fair to him. Whether you like the rules or not, he doesn’t make the rules – so he deserves his day on court and not in court, in my opinion.”