There’s a very real possibility the 2022 Australian Open will be played without its defending male champion.
Australian officials denied top-ranked Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic entry to the country Wednesday after a visa snafu concerning Djokovic’s COVID-19 vaccination status escalated into a diplomatic row between the two countries.
According to the BBC, Djokovic’s team failed to obtain a visa that permits medical exemptions for being unvaccinated. The nine-time Australian Open winner would need the visa to play in the tournament, and Djokovic had said Tuesday he had secured the exemption from being vaccinated.
Though officials with Tennis Australia, which oversees the tournament, gave Djokovic the green light to attend, the Australian government thought otherwise. Australians have lived with some of the world’s tightest COVID-19 restrictions, which sparked plenty of outrage as news of Djokovic’s exemption spread.
After landing in Melbourne late Wednesday, Djokovic was promptly whisked away for questioning only to then have his visa canceled hours later.
James Merlino, the deputy premier of the state of Victoria, where the year’s first major tournament is set to start on Jan. 17, last month said medical exemptions were not meant to be “a loophole for privileged tennis players” and are intended for “exceptional circumstances if you have an acute medical condition.”
Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said in a statement Wednesday that the commonwealth government reserved the right to enforce entry requirements regardless of what the state government or Tennis Australia might deem permissible.
“If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travelers,” Andrews said.
In a post on Instagram, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called on Australia to “stop the harassment of the best tennis player in the world,” adding that “the whole of Serbia” stands with the player.
According to The Age, Djokovic’s lawyers have challenged the decision. It’s unclear if the tennis star will be forced to leave the country in the meantime or if a state-sanctioned quarantine will suffice.