Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has left the door open for Novak Djokovic to compete at next year’s Australian Open despite the tennis superstar facing an automatic three-year ban from entering the country, according to Reuters.
The world number one player left Australia late on Sunday after the Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa, capping days of drama over the country’s COVID-19 entry rules and his unvaccinated status.
Under immigration law, Djokovic cannot be granted another visa for three years unless Australia’s immigration minister accepts there are compelling or compassionate reasons.
„I’m not going to precondition any of that or say anything that would not enable the minister to make the various calls he has to make,” Morrison told 2GB radio on Monday as Djokovic was en route to Dubai.
„It does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for (a person) to return in the right circumstances, and that will be considered at the time,” added Morrison.
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge Federal Court bench dealt a final blow to Djokovic’s hopes of chasing a record 21st Grand Slam win at the Australian Open, which starts on Monday, dismaying his family and supporters.
In a rollercoaster ride, the world’s top men’s player was first detained by immigration authorities on January 6, ordered released by a court on January 10 and then detained again on Saturday pending Sunday’s court hearing.
Djokovic, 34, said he was extremely disappointed by the ruling but he respected the court’s decision. „I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and the tournament I love,” Djokovic said in a statement before flying out of Melbourne.
Djokovic was escorted by airline staff on a terminal buggy to the departure gate for a flight a few hours later to Belgrade. He checked in alone for the six-hour flight.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had said Djokovic could be a threat to public order because his presence would encourage anti-vaccination sentiment amidst Australia’s worst coronavirus outbreak.
The Federal Court judges noted their ruling was based on the lawfulness and legality of the minister’s decision but did not address „the merits or wisdom” of the decision. They have yet to release the full reasoning behind their decision.