SYDNEY – With the coronavirus ravaging his country, leaving hospitals full and supermarket shelves empty, and an election looming this year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison thought he could score an early victory by expelling the tennis superstar Novak Djokovic.
Instead, Morrison got run over – again.
An Australian judge on Monday ordered the immediate release of the 20-time Grand Slam champion, who had been held in a hotel since last Thursday, when authorities canceled his visa after arriving in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open without a COVID vaccine.
The Serbian player, a known vaccine-skeptic, had called for a medical exemption from Australia’s mandatory vaccination rules for inbound travelers on the grounds that he had recently recovered from COVID after testing positive on December 16. However Djokovic said the organizer of the Tennis Australia tournament told him the exemption had been approved, the Australian Border Force canceled his visa upon arrival, citing public health grounds.
While Djokovic may have won the first set, the game is not over. Under Australia’s infamous border rules, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke can exercise his personal power to revoke the tennis star’s visa if he deems it in the public interest – and potentially ban the player world No. 1 to return to the country for the next three years.
Now Morrison, who has spent years building a reputation as a hardline immigration supporter, is stuck in a no-win situation: step back and let Djokovic to stay in Australia and play in the tournament (just imagine those post-match press conferences!), Kicks off this year on January 17th.
Why did Australia choose this fight with Djokovic? Bad optics – and a classic case of the wrong place, wrong time.
Melbourne, home of the Australian Open, has suffered one of the longest lockdowns in the world, with residents spending more than 260 days under severe restrictions during the pandemic. At the same time, Australians across the country – and around the world – have been separated from loved ones after the government implemented a COVID plan dubbed ‘Fortress Australia’.
The Aussies were therefore in no mood to publish a deaf Instagram post last week in which the ‘Djoker’ wrote: ‘I spent some fantastic quality time with my loved ones during the break and today I am. heading to Down Under with an exemption clearance. It’s gone in 2022 !! “
After an initial handful of headlines and an outcry on social media, center-right Morrison responded to Djokovic’s post by throwing responsibility for the decision to allow it in Australia on the center-left government of the state of Victoria.
But as the outrage grew, Morrison, a politician with a populist bent and a nose for what goes well in the press, pivoted.
“Sir. Djokovic’s visa has been canceled,” Morrison announced a day later, taking credit for the decision. “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders,” he said. he added. “No one is above these rules. Our strict border policies have been essential for Australia to have one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we continue to be vigilant. ”
Asked by reporters whether Djokovic had been unfairly singled out, given that other unvaccinated tennis players had been allowed into the country before the champion’s detention, Morrison said: will do and what are their claims, they call attention to themselves.
He added: “Anyone who does this – be it a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player, a journalist, anyone who does this – can expect to be asked. more questions than the others before you. This is how the Border Force works. They are not singled out at all. “
Translation: It was the Instagram post.
Morrison had to expect a quick victory – Djokovic was not reportedly the first Australian public figure to be kicked out in response to a public outcry, following in the footsteps of far-right British commentator Katie Hopkins, American rapper Tyler, creator and the American “choice”. -up artist ”Julien Blanc.
But Djokovic became a lawyer and rendered his service. Federal Circuit Court judge Anthony Kelly sided with the tennis star in Melbourne on Monday, and the Australian government was forced to admit that Djokovic did not have enough time to respond to the notification of his intention to cancel his visa. “We all play by the same rules” the judge said, in a pointed reference to Morrison’s “rules are rules” line, adding: “Said in other words: these rules were broken.”
Reacting to his victory, Djokovic tweeted: “I am happy and grateful that the judge overturned the cancellation of my visa. Despite everything that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete… I stay focused on this. I flew here to play one of the biggest events we have in front of amazing fans. He added: “So far I can’t say more but THANKS everyone for being with me through all of this and for encouraging me to stay strong.”
Australians will vote in the federal election this year, and according to the most recent Newspoll, the Prime Minister is on course to lose – although polls predicted the same outcome in the last election, which Morrison ultimately won.
Still, Morrison’s “daggy daddy” act is noticeably starting to wear off. He has been accused of spoiling a new ‘let it rip’ COVID policy that has seen the healthcare system and supply chains collapse under an intense pandemic wave caused by Omicron. He has been labeled a liar by French President Emmanuel Macron for his handling of the AUKUS defense pact with the United States and the United Kingdom
And now Morrison has been beaten by Djokovic.
Game, set… match?