In a virtual hearing on Sunday, three federal court judges unanimously rejected Djokovic’s request to overturn the immigration minister’s decision to revoke his visa, but did not disclose reasons for the ruling.
The world No. 1 was set to play Monday night at the Australian Open, where he had hoped to win a record-breaking 21st men’s grand slam title.
The high-profile, off-the-court saga pitting one of tennis’ biggest stars against Australian government and public health officials has overshadowed the build-up to the first tennis grand slam of the year.
In a statement, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” by the decision and would cooperate with authorities regarding his departure from the country.
“I feel uneasy that the focus of the past few weeks has been on me and I hope that now we can all focus on the game and the tournament that I love,” the statement added.
“I want to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.”
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke welcomed the court’s decision and emphasized the government’s commitment to maintaining a strong border policy.
Australia has previously had one of the strictest border policies in the world to keep out Covid. Hawke said those rules had kept Australians “safe” during the pandemic and were “fundamental” in “protecting Australia’s social cohesion”.
“Australians have made great sacrifices to get to this point,” the statement said.
Although the number of Covid-19 cases is increasing in Australia, the country has a relatively low death toll compared to other countries.
Last week, the country surpassed one million Covid cases throughout the pandemic — but more than half of those were acquired in the past two weeks.
What happened in court?
Sunday’s hastily convened federal court hearing examined whether Hawke’s decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa was “unreasonable”.
The 34-year-old Serbian tennis star contested the immigration minister’s decision on three grounds, including that the minister had not properly considered the consequences of revoking his visa.
Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood said Hawke’s decision was “irrational” because the minister had not considered the act itself could encourage anti-vaxxers – exactly what the government wanted to prevent.
But Stephen Lloyd, Hawke’s lawyer, said the minister didn’t have to prove under the Australian Migration Act that Djokovic was a public health risk, only that he “could be”.
He said Djokovic’s anti-vax stance was reflected in his failure to get vaccinated, despite having the chance to do so before arriving in Australia.
He added that the perception that Djokovic was against vaccination was enough to risk inciting anti-vaxxers in the country, and that the tennis star’s apparent disregard for Covid-19 rules meant there was a risk existed that others would imitate his actions and ignore public health regulations.
A long running saga
The saga began almost two weeks ago, when Djokovic’s visa was first revoked shortly after his arrival on January 5.
Current Australian law requires all international arrivals to be vaccinated against Covid-19 – which Djokovic is not – unless they have a medical exemption.
Djokovic said he was under the impression he was allowed in because two independent panels linked to Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government had granted him an exemption on the grounds that he was infected with Covid-19 in December.
The federal government argued that a previous infection with Covid-19 under its rules is not a valid reason for an exemption.
Upon his arrival in Australia, Djokovic was taken to the Park Hotel in Melbourne, which is also used as a detention center for refugees, while lawyers prepared a case to overturn the decision.
On Monday, Judge Anthony Kelly ruled that border officials had been “unreasonable” when they canceled his original visa to enter Australia and ordered Djokovic to be released from immigration detention.
Djokovic’s visa was revoked for the second time by Hawke on Friday, but the government agreed not to deport the tennis star the weekend before his case was concluded.