The Australian Open will use 40,000 rapid antigen tests on players, staff and media as the tournament faces further upheaval in the face of the country’s rapidly growing Covid crisis, but no one yet knows if Novak Djokovic will require even one test.
The controversial 20-time Grand Slam champion is still in limbo as to whether he can compete or not, with his team already planning a court appeal if the immigration minister decides to sensationally cancel his visa.
As of Thursday night, no decision has been made with government sources accusing Djokovic’s team of ‘stalling’ by submitting reams of extra paperwork in recent days.
Despite being drawn as first seed for when the tournament begins on Monday, minister Alex Hawke could still cancel the anti-vaxxer’s visa, which has already been cancelled once and then re-instated by court order on Monday.
The Open was hit by another unwanted roadblock on Thursday, when the Victorian Government brought in a 50 per cent crowd cap in light of soaring Covid cases in the state.
To keep the competition moving, and though people across the country are finding RATs very hard to come by, the Australian Open has acquired tens of thousands of them to test players and their teams, tournament staff and even the media daily.
Novak Djokovic (pictured left) and his wife Jelena. His team is preparing to appeal if the Immigration Minister decides to cancel his visa – a decision delayed several times this week
Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa status lies in the hands of the Minister for Immigration, Alex Hawke (pictured) who is still considering trying to deport the reigning Australian Open champion
Each person will have to test negatively on RATs every day of the 14-day tournament.
Though a decision on Djokovic’s visa status was widely expected to be handed down on Thursday – which was what caused a delay to the Open draw – it did not happen.
Instead, Mr Hawke is now expected to announce his decision on Friday – the last weekday before the tournament starts on Monday.
If he does decide to again cancel Djokovic’s visa, his representatives have made it known that they would immediately appeal in court any attempt to deport him.
Getting an emergency court hearing late on Friday or over the weekend would be difficult, but not impossible.
It is unlikely to be ideal preparation for the man currently ranked No.1 in the world.
Djokovic desperately wants to play in and win the Australian Open, which would give him the most Grand Slam wins ever – 21.
He is currently tied at the top with Rafa Nadal – who is already in Australia and set to play – and Roger Federer, who will not appear, on 20 Grand Slams each.
In the delayed draw on Thursday afternoon, Djokovic was drawn to play against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic, who is ranked world No.78.
Despite the new capacity cap, tickets already bought will be honoured.
Tennis player Maria Sakkari of Greece (centre) waits with fellow players and officials outside a hotel for a Covid-19 coronavirus test in Melbourne on February 4, 2021. For this year’s Australian Open, players, staff and the media will have to take a rapid antigen test every day
Those who already have tickets and ground passes will not have to surrender or swap them, but no more will be sold on days which have already reached 50 per cent capacity.
Those attending will have to wear face masks at all times unless eating or drinking.
Victoria’s acting sport minister Jaala Pulford said the Open is very important to the state’s economy – the 2020 tournament, which was also Covid restricted, attracted more than 800,000 spectators and injected $387.7m into the local economy.
‘These updates to arrangements for the Australian Open will mean fans, players and the workforce can look forward to a terrific Covid-safe event in Australia’s event capital,’ she said.
High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters will be installed at Melbourne Park for the duration of the tournament after a ventilation assessment is completed.
Spectators (pictured) wear face masks as they visit the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park on Friday, February 12, 2021. Attendees this year will also have to wear masks with a 50 per cent capacity cap in plae
As well as legal difficulties in Australia and in his homeland – for meeting people and not isolating after a positive Covid result – it has also emerged that Spain is looking into Djokovic’s behaviour.
Spanish authorities are looking into whether he was granted approval to enter Spain as an unvaccinated person a week before flying to Melbourne.
Since last September, Serbians have been required to present a vaccine certificate or medical exemption to enter Spain.
Local media outlet COPE said Spanish authorities are investigating whether he requested special permission to travel to Spain, given he was training and may not have been involved in ‘necessary work’ or ‘high-level sporting events’, which are considered valid reasons for entry under Spanish law.
‘The Ministry of the Interior has confirmed that they have also asked the Police [about Djokovic’s entry to Spain], while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has done the same,’ COPE reported.
Novak Djokovic is seen during a training session at Melbourne Park on Wednesday – two days after he was released from immigration detention
Novak Djokovic (pictured at a training session on Thursday) has been left in legal limbo all week
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday that he didn’t want to comment on the Djokovic matter as it was still before Mr Hawke, but reiterated that unvaccinated foreigners are not allowed to enter the country unless they have a valid medical exemption.
Mr Morrison said foreigners have to ‘show they are double vaccinated or must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons … that is the policy. That policy hasn’t changed,’ he said.
‘We would expect authorities to be implementing the policy of the government when it comes to those matters. That relates to people who are coming to Australia. These are non-citizens, non-residents.’
Mr Morrison added that it didn’t matter whether foreigners had a visa for Australia because the visa approval process was not connected with the process at the border to prove a person’s vaccination status.
‘And so that’s why it’s important to distinguish between the visa and the condition to enter at the border,’ he said.
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic (pictured) stands at a booth of the Australian Border Force at the airport in Melbourne on January 5, just minutes before he was detained. Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese has questioned why Djokovic was allowed into the country in the first place
Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese, disagreed though, and lambasted the government’s handling of the visa saga.
‘How is it that a visa was granted in the first place?’ he said.
‘This has been diabolical for Australia’s reputation, just in terms of our competence here, and it is extraordinary that – as we are speaking – we still don’t know what the decision will be.’
‘The decision should have been made before he was granted a visa. Either he was eligible or he wasn’t.’
It has been 57 days since Djokovic was granted his visa and more than a week since he arrived in Melbourne, but an agreeable resolution looks to be nowhere in sight.
Key moments in Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open bid
By Karen Sweeney in Melbourne for Australian Associated Press
Tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic is still focused on defending his Australian Open title and winning a record-breaking 21st men’s grand slam tournament but the road to Melbourne has been bumpy and the path is not yet clear.
October/November – Djokovic applies for a temporary visa to enter Australia and compete in the 2022 Australian Open.
November 18 – Granted a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa.
December 14 – Attends a basketball match in Belgrade, Serbia, where attendees contract COVID-19.
December 16 – Djokovic is ‘tested and diagnosed’ with COVID-19. Documents show he was tested at 1.05pm and the result was returned at 8.19pm.
December 17 – Attends events in Belgrade, including a trophy presentation for junior tennis players. Pictured not wearing a mask and posing side-by-side indoors with a large group of children.
December 18 – Djokovic says he learned of the positive test and cancelled several scheduled events. Goes ahead with an interview and photoshoot with French newspaper L’Equipe, saying he felt ‘obliged’ because ‘I didn’t want to let the journalist down’.
December 22 – Returns a negative PCR test.
December 25 – Filmed by a fan playing tennis on a street in Belgrade. He is also photographed alongside Serbian handball player Petar Djordjic.
December 30 – Tennis Australia notify Djokovic he has been granted a temporary medical exemption, allowing him to play in the Australian Open despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19. The exemption was granted on the basis of a previous infection, based on the opinion of one panel of medical experts and reviewed by another.
December 31 – Filmed training at a tennis academy in Sotogrande, Spain. The academy post photos on its Instagram of him posing for pictures with fans a day later.
January 1 – Authorises his agent to complete his Australian Travel Declaration. The document says Djokovic had not travelled in the 14 days prior to his intended arrival in Australia. Later admits the form contained an error in not acknowledging his travel between Serbia and Spain. Djokovic said his agent was notified by the Department of Home Affairs that the declaration had been assessed and he met the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival.
January 2 – Granted a border travel permit by the Victorian government.
January 4 – Announces on Instagram he is ‘heading Down Under with an exemption’. The post was made shortly before he departed for Melbourne, via Dubai. News of his impending arrival sparks controversy in Australia.
January 5 – Arrives in Melbourne at 11.30pm.
January 6 – Australian Border Force officials detain Djokovic. After a series of early morning interviews his visa is cancelled at 7.29am. His lawyers are granted a temporary injunction by the Federal Circuit Court. Djokovic is taken to the Park Hotel, which is being used as an immigration detention centre.
January 7 – Spends Orthodox Christmas in his hotel room.
January 10 – After a lengthy hearing, a judge quashes the government’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa after lawyers concede the decision was unreasonable in the circumstances. Judge Anthony Kelly rules Djokovic be paid his costs and freed from immigration detention. Government lawyers note Immigration Minister Alex Hawke still has a personal power to revoke Djokovic’s visa.
January 11 – Djokovic posts a photo of himself training at Rod Laver Arena. ‘Despite all that has happened in the past week, I want to stay and to try to compete at the Australian Open,’ he says. Questions are raised over his Australian Travel Declaration after documents released by the court revealed he answered ‘no’ to the question about travel in the 14 days before his arrival.
January 12 – Posts a statement on Instagram to correct ‘continuing misinformation’. He admits knowingly going through with the L’Equipe interview while positive for Covid-19. He also apologises for the ‘administrative mistake’ on the travel declaration. Mr Hawke’s office say he is still considering whether to exercise his power to revoke Djokovic’s visa.
January 13 – The draw for the Australian Open is delayed pending news of Djokovic’s visa. When the draw eventually happens at 4.15, he is drawn against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic.