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Djokovic waits on Australian government visa decision as Open nears

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park as questions remain over the legal battle regarding his visa to play in the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, January 13, 2022. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

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MELBOURNE, Jan 14 (Reuters) – World tennis number one Novak Djokovic was waiting on Friday to hear whether the Australian government will cancel his visa for a second time, as he bids for a record 21st major tennis title at the Australian Open starting on Monday.

Djokovic, the defending champion, was included in Thursday’s draw as top seed and was due to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic for his opening match, probably on Monday or Tuesday.

A decision to again cancel his visa could set up a second court battle by the Serbian tennis star, after a court quashed an earlier revocation and released him from immigration detention on Monday.

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Melbourne’s The Age newspaper cited a source in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party as saying the government was “strongly leaning” towards revoking the visa again.

Djokovic, a vaccine sceptic, fuelled widespread anger in Australia when he announced last week he was heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open with a medical exemption to requirements for visitors to be inoculated against COVID-19.

Australia has endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns, has a 90% vaccination rate among adults, and has seen a runaway Omicron outbreak bring nearly a million cases in the last two weeks.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said on morning television on Friday that visa decisions were a matter for the country’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, but the policy settings of the government overall were “crystal clear”.

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“That is that people who enter Australia who are not Australian citizens should be double dose vaccinated unless they have a clear and valid medical exemption against that,” he said on Channel 9’s Today Show.

An online poll by the News Corp media group found that 83% favoured the government trying to deport the tennis star.

Fans, however, including many Serbian Australians, gave him noisy support when he was detained, anti-vaxxers have hailed him as a hero, and his family have portrayed him as a champion for individual rights.

The Committee for Melbourne, which represents business and arts leaders, says the city’s reputation for hosting events has been damaged by the dispute.

“The Djokovic visa and vaccination saga has reflected poorly on all those involved, which is a tragedy considering the excellence of our infrastructure and tournament planning,” Chief executive of the committee Martine Letts told The Age.

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Reporting by Sonali Paul, Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Richard Pullin; Editing by Michael Perry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Source: Reuters

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