Novak Djokovic relied on a weeks-old Covid infection to justify his vaccine-free travel to Australia and was given a green light by the federal government just days before arriving in the country, court documents reveal.
Court documents associated with Djokovic’s challenge to his visa cancellation were published by the federal circuit court late Saturday, ahead of an urgent hearing on Monday.
The documents reveal that Djokovic relied on a very recent Covid-19 infection, recorded on 16 December by the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, to argue he was exempt from vaccine travel requirements.
They reveal he has also accused Australian government officials of unfairly pressuring him to accept a decision on his visa cancellation in the early hours of the morning, without the chance to properly talk with his lawyers or rest after 25 hours of travelling.
He was granted a temporary visa to enter Australia on 18 November, and received a letter from the chief medical officer of Tennis Australia on 30 December recording he had a “medical exemption from Covid vaccination” on the ground that he had recently recovered from the virus.
On New Year’s Day, Djokovic had also received a document from the home affairs department about his Australian travel declaration, which told Djokovic that “[his] Australia travel declaration [had] been assessed” and that “[his] responses indicate[d] that [he met] the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival into Australia where permitted by the jurisdiction of your arrival”.
After his arrival, he underwent repeated interviews in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and explained to home affairs department that his recent infection gave him an exemption, and that he had been cleared by an independent committee involving Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government.
He was told by Australian government officials that they would make a decision imminently, but would give him 20 minutes to make any further arguments. About 5.20am, Djokovic said he asked for more time to rest and to “talk to [his] solicitor again”. He asked if he could be given until 8am or 8.30am.
He alleges the government official responded: “[S]o that’s absolutely fine, I have spoken with my supervisors and they’re more than happy to allow you have to rest.”
Djokovic then alleges he was pressured into allowing the officials to make an immediate decision, despite his lack of rest, and his confusion and shock at the situation.
He said two officials walked up to him as he was waiting for a bed to be prepared, and tried to convince him to let them make a decision immediately. He alleges they said something like “the sooner that they make a decision, the better for [Mr Djokovic] and [his] representatives”.
He again asked for more time. About 6am, Djokovic said he was woken by officials and again urged to let them make a decision immediately.
“Over several pages of transcript the supervisor pressured Mr Djokovic to simply continue the interview immediately,” court document say. “Mr Djokovic, having formed the view that ‘[they were] going to cancel [his] visa, it’s obvious’ relented, feeling he had no choice, and on the basis of an understanding based on what they had said to him that it was better for him if the interview was done right away.”
Djokovic’s challenge to the visa cancellation relies on a number of administrative failings he says affected the decision-making process.
He said that he believed he had done everything he needed to do to enter Australia, given he had a visa, had received certification from the tournament organiser following a review by a panel established by the Victorian government, and had received a document informing him that he “met the requirements for quarantine-free arrival” by the home affairs department.
He alleges the delegate for the minister for home affairs, Karen Andrews, failed to give him proper notice of the cancellation of his visa, misapplied recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, and failed to take account of “highly probative evidence” that Djokovic had a medical contraindication allowing him to travel.
The Djokovic scandal deepened on Saturday after separate revelations that Tennis Australia informed players that a prior infection would be a reason to exempt them from Australia’s tough border restrictions. That advice was given despite the health department telling Tennis Australia on two occasions that exemptions did not exist for those recently infected with Covid.
Tennis Australia has largely refused to answer questions or media queries about its handling of the matter. But a leaked video of Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley emerged in News Corp papers on Saturday afternoon, showing him telling his staff they had done “an unbelievable job” in handling the affair.
“We’ve chosen at this point not to be very public with it and simply because there is a pending lawsuit related to entry into Australia. Once that has run its course, we’ll be able to share more with you,” he said.
“There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on and a lot of blaming going on, but I can assure you our team has done an unbelievable job and have done everything they possibly could according to all the instructions that they have been provided.”
Further details also emerged about Tiley’s interactions with Atagi about exemptions for players either recently infected with Covid or who had only received one dose.
The Age reported that Tiley had told Atagi the treatment of such players “goes to the heart of the viability of the Australian Open”.