Novak Djokovic has blamed his agent for an “administrative mistake” when declaring he had not travelled in the two weeks before his flight to Australia and acknowledged an “error of judgment” by not isolating after he tested positive for Covid.
The world No 1 released a statement on Wednesday in a bid to address what he called “continuing misinformation” about his activities in December before he came to Australia in a bid to retain his Australian Open crown.
But Djokovic’s statement, posted to Instagram, did not address reports by Der Spiegel claiming apparent anomalies with his 16 December PCR test result. The reporting has raised questions about the positive Covid diagnosis that forms the basis of his exemption to travel to Australia.
Wednesday’s statement claims he wasn’t notified of his positive result until 17 December despite Djokovic’s affidavit to the federal circuit court that he was both “tested and diagnosed” on 16 December.
Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, has confirmed he is still considering re-cancelling Djokovic’s visa, citing “lengthy further submissions and supporting documentation” from the player’s lawyers as the cause of delay.
Djokovic had his visa restored by the federal circuit court on Monday but his ability to stay in Australia was put in doubt by the ministerial review.
On Tuesday, it was revealed the Australian Border Force was investigating his pre-flight declaration after images emerged suggesting he was in Belgrade less than two weeks before his flight from Spain to Australia on 4 January.
On Wednesday, Djokovic said he wished to correct “misinformation … in the interest of alleviating broader concern in the community about my presence in Australia”.
“I want to emphasise that I have tried very hard to ensure the safety of everyone and my compliance with testing obligations,” he said.
“I attended a basketball game in Belgrade on 14 December after which it was reported that a number of people tested positive with 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.”
Djokovic said on 17 December he attended a tennis event in Belgrade to present awards to children, after testing negative again on a rapid test. “I was asymptomatic and felt good, and I had not received the notification of a positive PCR test result until after that event.”
Djokovic said after receiving the positive result he nevertheless attended his tennis centre in Belgrade on 18 December to uphold a “longstanding commitment for a L’Equipe interview” because he “felt obliged” to and “didn’t want to let the journalist down”. Djokovic says he socially distanced and wore a mask except while photos were taken.
“While 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.”
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Djokovic said the incorrect pre-travel declaration of 1 January was “submitted by my support team on my behalf”.
“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.”
Djokovic said he has “provided additional information to the Australian government to clarify this matter” but would not be making further comment “out of the utmost respect for the Australian government and their authorities and current process”.
Djokovic did not address the Der Spiegel report which claimed the QR code for his 16 December PCR test showed a negative result when they scanned it earlier this week before subsequently giving a positive result.
It also claimed to have uncovered anomalies between the paper version of the PCR test result shown to be positive and the digital version of it as presented by the tennis player’s lawyers.
The paper version reportedly suggests that the alleged positive test result is not from 16 December but – according to the time stamped on it – from 26 December. Spiegel acknowledged the timestamp could also reflect when the result was downloaded by the tested person.
According to findings by the IT research group Zerforschung, and shared with Spiegel, the positive test from 16 December had the Serb testing system number 7371999. Djokovic’s negative test result, carried out on 22 December, reportedly had an identification number that was about 50,000 positions lower.
The Zerforschung researchers have told Spiegel they have confirmation that the test ID numbers rise, rather than fall, raising questions that the test allegedly from 22 December was carried out prior to the test allegedly from 16 December.
Spiegel put questions to both Djokovic and Serbian health authorities but by Tuesday evening had yet to receive a response. The Guardian has also contacted Djokovic for comment.
A spokesperson for the Australian immigration minister, Alex Hawke, said he was still considering use of his personal power to cancel Djokovic’s visa.
“Mr Djokovic’s lawyers have recently provided lengthy further submissions and supporting documentation said to be relevant to the possible cancellation of Mr Djokovic’s visa,” he said on Wednesday. “Naturally, this will affect the timeframe for a decision.”
Around the same time that Djokovic’s statement was released, the world No 1 continued his tournament preparations by holding his first open training session on Rod Laver Arena with Tristan Schoolkate, a young Australian player.
Djokovic’s first two practices since his release from detention had been held in private with the doors of Rod Laver Arena locked and the court’s live feed turned off on Tuesday.
Additional reporting Tumaini Carayol