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SYDNEY – “Rules are rules”, according to to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison – but if you’re the best tennis player in the world, the rules don’t necessarily apply.
The world is anxiously awaiting Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to reveal whether he will use his personal power to expel Novak Djokovic and ban him from Australia for three years, or allow the world No.1 to stay in Melbourne to fight for what could be his 10th Australian Open title.
Since a judge ordered Djokovic’s release from hotel detention, after Australia tried to expel the vaccine-skeptic COVID upon arrival in Melbourne, Djokovic has admitted to breaking isolation rules Serbs and did admit that he lied on his Australian Travel Declaration Form.
While that should make the eviction a no-brainer on paper, here’s what hangs over Hawke’s mind as he considers intervening …
The “advertising test”
The Morrison government’s strategy for winning the election has a name: the “test pub”. Think of Britain’s ‘the man on the Clapham Omnibus’, but three beers in it and constantly wondering what he thinks of the Prime Minister.
And with a federal election likely in a few months, Morrison’s center-right Liberal Party is hyper-alert for anything that might upset the average Australian.
The rules for traveling to Australia at this time are clear: you must have a visa, a recent negative COVID test, be fully vaccinated and faithfully complete your travel declaration. Djokovic is not vaccinated and his form incorrectly stated that he had not traveled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia.
While Djokovic was locked in hotel detention, contesting the cancellation of his visa, the Australian Prime Minister and his colleagues were too keen to point out his failures.
“Rules are rules and there are no special cases,” Morrison proclaimed at a press conference on Jan.6. Home Secretary Karen Andrews added last week. “This is the only way to ensure a fair start for all, especially for the Australians and their families who have made sacrifices over the past two years to comply with various pandemic rules.”
But Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly’s verdict turned the situation into a headache for the government. While Kelly ordered Djokovic’s release, he did so for administrative reasons – not because the tennis champion’s visa was valid, but because the government was forced to concede that he did not. had sufficient time to respond to its cancellation.
At this point, Morrison et co. could have backed down, pretended the matter was out of their control and allowed Djokovic to play. But instead, the government sought to save face by noting that Hawke still had the personal power to step in and kick Djokovic out of the country.
Three days later, with the Australian Open draw finished and Djokovic in it and the tournament set to start on Monday, Hawke’s inaction is excruciating.
If he steps back on Friday and allows Djokovic to stay, the government seems weak; the electorate remembers that the rules don’t matter if you are rich and famous; and Morrison’s tough stance on immigration is undermined at the worst possible time.
So why isn’t Djokovic on the next plane back?
The case of the Biloela family
One of the likely reasons Hawke is reluctant to use his power to intervene personally is the so-called Biloela family affair. A family of Tamil asylum seekers – the Murugappans – have been fighting for years to be allowed to return to the town of Biloela in the Australian state of Queensland after the federal government rejected their asylum claim on the grounds that the parents had traveled to Australia by boat. , and ordered them to return to Sri Lanka.
the Biloela’s community rallied around the family, waging a passionate campaign for Hawke to intervene, using his personal power to allow the family to return to town. Hawke has largely abstained so far, despite the terrible fate of the family.
Today, the Djokovic case is drawing more and more attention to the Murugappans – and if Hawke chooses to step in, even if it’s to kick the tennis star out, he points out that he could easily do so in the Biloela case too.
And there’s another major reason Hawke may hesitate.
The fate of the Australian Open
The Melbourne Grand Slam is among Australia’s most beloved sporting events, drawing thousands of visitors and contributing over A $ 380 million (around € 242 million) to the Victorian economy ahead of the 2020 pandemic .
Djokovic is the best male tennis player in the world, a man some fans love and others hate. If the 2022 Australian Open loses its headliner, the competition for the trophy is likely to be between Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev (the latter of whom is under investigation into allegations of domestic violence). ). Certainly less exciting.
(Note: If Zverev is convicted of a domestic violence offense or subject to a domestic violence order, he would technically fail the character requirement for an Australian visa in the future.)
And more broadly, the Djokovic saga arrives at a complex time for the Australian Open. With the Grand Slam set to be held in Melbourne Park for the foreseeable future, tournament director Craig Tiley has repeatedly warned that his future is not necessarily guaranteed, especially given the pandemic. He said last year: “Even though we have a contract until 2039 for the government, it doesn’t mean that if… another country invests a lot of money for a big event that is easy to play”, the best players would say. keep coming to Melbourne.
“The only reason we have the players here is because we are offering a lot of cash prizes and spending a lot of time chasing them,” he added.
So what happens to a Grand Slam when the best player in the world is banned for three years?
Looks like Hawke is afraid to find out.