20-time Grand Slam winner, Novak Djokovic is set to be deported from Australia after losing a last-ditch court bid to stay in the country.
Judges rejected the tennis star’s appeal after the government cancelled the unvaccinated player’s visa on “health and good order” grounds.
The decision has ended his hopes of defending his Australian Open title and winning a record 21st Grand Slam.
Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” but respected the ruling, made on the eve of his first match.
“I will co-operate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he said in a statement. It was not immediately clear when he would leave.
His supporters fell silent outside the courtroom as the decision was announced. One fan told the BBC that her summer would be “empty” without the 34-year-old playing in Melbourne.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed “the decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe”.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” he said.
Djokovic launched the case after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his ministerial powers to cancel the Serbian player’s visa, arguing that his presence in the country risked fanning anti-vaccine sentiment.
It was the second time his visa had been revoked, after a first cancellation over not following Covid entry rules was overturned by a different judge.
During Sunday’s court hearing before a three-judge panel, Djokovic’s defence unsuccessfully argued that the grounds given by the government were “invalid and illogical”.
Chief Justice James Allsop said the federal court’s ruling on Sunday was based on the lawfulness and legality of the minister’s decision, not on the “merits or wisdom of that decision”.
Full reasoning for the ruling will be made public in the coming days, he said.
Sunday’s decision marks the end of a 10-day saga over Djokovic’s Australian visa.
There has been much public anger in Australia over the player’s attempt to enter the country unvaccinated. The federal government has repeatedly said people must comply with the strict laws in place to deal with the pandemic, and that no-one is “above the law”.
World number one Djokovic was originally granted a medical exemption to enter Australia by two different independent health panels – one commissioned by Tennis Australia, the other by the state government of Victoria – after testing positive for coronavirus in mid-December.
However, the Australian Border Force detained him on 5 January for not meeting federal coronavirus requirements.
A judge later overturned that decision, but the government stepped in last Friday to revoke the visa again, saying doing so was in the public interest.
Although Djokovic is not vaccinated against Covid-19, he has not actively promoted anti-vax disinformation. However, Australian anti-vaxxers have been using the hashtag #IStandWithDjokovic on social media.
In his statement on Sunday, Djokovic said he was “uncomfortable” with the focus placed on him because of the visa row. “I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” he said.
Italy’s Salvatore Caruso, who is ranked 150th in the world, will now replace Djokovic in his match against Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday.
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