How the ‘Djokovic affair’ finally ended
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SYDNEY, Australia – The day before the start of the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic, perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time, came up against a determined group of opponents that no amount of talent , training, money or will could not overcome.
He lost his latest bid to stay in Australia on Sunday when a three-judge panel upheld the government’s decision to cancel his visa.
More broadly, he lost to a government determined to make him a symbol of unvaccinated celebrity rights; to an immigration law that gives divine authority to enforce borders; and to a public outcry, in a nation of rule-breakers, over what was widely seen as Mr Djokovic’s reckless disregard for others, after he said he had tested positive for Covid last month and had nevertheless met two journalists.
“At this point, it’s about social norms and applying those norms to keep getting people moving in the same direction to overcome this pandemic,” said Brock Bastian, professor of social psychology at the University of Melbourne. “In this culture, in this country, the feeling of suddenly upending those norms comes at a very high political and social cost.”
It is only in the maddening third year of a pandemic that an individual’s vaccination status can take on such meaning. For more than a week, the world has stood in awe of a dispute centered on a controversial racketeering, filled with legal minutia and dramatic ups and downs.
On Sunday morning in Australia, more than 84,000 people watched the live broadcast of the hearing in federal court, many of whom presumably tuned in from other countries.
What they witnessed was the saga’s bizarre final court scene: a six-panel videoconference with lengthy arguments, in distant rooms of blond wood, over whether the immigration minister had acted rationally in exercising his power to detain and deport.
Chief Justice James Allsop announced the decision just before 6 p.m., after explaining that the court was not ruling on the merits of Mr Djokovic’s position, or on whether the government was right to rule. say he could influence others to resist vaccination or defy public health orders. Instead, the court simply concluded that the immigration minister was within his rights to cancel the tennis star’s visa for the second time based on this possibility.
Just days earlier, lawyers for Mr Djokovic had obtained a reprieve following his first visa cancellation, hours after arriving at Melbourne airport on January 5. On Friday morning, he looked set to compete for a record-breaking 10th Australian Open title and 21st Grand Slam. But that initial case never got past the case, focusing on how Mr Djokovic was treated at the airport as border officials detained him overnight.
In the second round, his lawyers argued that the government used faulty logic to insist that their client’s presence would energize anti-vaccination groups, making him a threat to public health. In fact, they argued, anti-vaccine sentiment would be heightened by his withdrawal, citing the protests that followed his first visa cancellation.
“The minister is looking for straws,” said Nicholas Wood, one of Mr Djokovic’s lawyers. The alternative scenario — that deportation would empower anti-vaccines — “was not considered,” he argued.
Mr Wood also disputed the government’s claim that Mr Djokovic, 34, was a well-known promoter of vaccine opposition. The only comments cited in the government’s court filing, he said, were from April 2020, when vaccines had not yet been developed.
Since then, his lawyers added, Mr Djokovic had been careful to say very little about his vaccination status, which he only confirmed in his paperwork for Australia’s medical exemption.
“There was no evidence before the minister that Mr. Djokovic ever urged others not to get vaccinated,” they wrote in a court filing ahead of Sunday’s hearing. “Indeed, if anything, Mr. Djokovic’s conduct over time reveals a zealous protection of his own privacy rather than any advocacy.”
The case, however, ultimately backfired on Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and his personal views. Judge Allsop pointed out in court that Australian immigration law provides for a broad remit: evidence can simply include “the perception and common sense” of the decision maker.
Stephen Lloyd, advocating for the government, told the court it was perfectly reasonable for the immigration minister to be concerned about the influence of a ‘high profile unvaccinated person’ who might have been vaccinated at that day, but had not done so.
He added that concern over Mr Djokovic’s impact went beyond vaccination, noting that Mr Djokovic had not self-isolated after he said he tested positive for Covid in mid-December, meeting rather two journalists in Belgrade. The government, Mr Lloyd said, feared Australians would emulate his disregard for standard Covid safety rules if he was allowed to stay.
“His connection to a cause, whether he likes it or not, is always there,” Mr Lloyd said. “And his presence in Australia was seen as an overwhelming risk, and that’s what prompted the minister.”
The court sided with the government, announcing its decision without immediately detailing its reasoning.
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While Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the decision (“strong borders are fundamental to the Australian way of life”, he said), some legal scholars said the end result and the back and forths that preceded should be a source of shame. in Australia.
“The saga exposed many long-standing dysfunctions and injustices in the Australian system: overly strict, byzantine and unpredictable rules of entry, but paradoxically special treatment through exemptions for the rich and famous,” said said Ben Saul, professor of international law at the university. University of Sydney.
He added that the case showed how the Immigration Minister’s “godlike powers” were essentially “unreviewable by the courts” and often led to “the unnecessary, obsessive and cruel detention of aliens”.
Human rights lawyers have suggested that the reasoning behind the cancellation of the visa – done in the heat of an election year by a government struggling to manage the latest Covid outbreak – could even lead to the cancellation of freedom of speech.
Mr. Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” by the court’s decision, but that he would comply and leave the country.
In Serbia, the decision sparked a new wave of contempt.
“The Australian government’s conduct towards him has been utterly shameful,” Vuk Jeremic, Serbia’s foreign minister from 2007 to 2012, who later served as president of the UN General Assembly, said in an email. .
He called the whole case an example of politicized harassment. “Novak is a victim of tight-rope politics by shameless populists, driven exclusively by instant opinion polls,” he said.
Recent polls have indeed shown that a majority of Australians support the withdrawal of Mr. Djokovic. Even some of the most diehard sports fans have said that the highest ranked male player in the world should never have been allowed to come without being vaccinated.
But in many ways, Djokovic’s drama – with his wrangling over state and federal jurisdiction, his faulty communication from Open organizers and all the star-studded attention when the average Aussie couldn’t find a home Covid testing in pharmacies – left nearly everyone involved looking bruised and dumb.
Players and fans are now wondering how this year’s Open will be remembered: for tennis or for the ‘Djokovic affair’?
“It’s a tricky situation we put ourselves in,” said Mr. Bastian, the social psychologist. “We have a strong sporting identity as a nation and how that part of our identity is portrayed in the world is important to us. If that is tarnished, we will take notice.
Marc Santora contributed reporting from Belgrade, Serbia.
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