Novak Djokovic: Australia sparks diplomatic row with visa cancellation

The decision to deport tennis star Novak Djokovic has sparked diplomatic fallout, with the prime minister, Scott Morrison, dismissing pleas from the Serbian government for Australia to reconsider the move.

Speaking after the Australian Border Force decision on Thursday, Morrison revealed that diplomats from the Serbian embassy in Canberra had made formal representations to Australia about the decision to deport Djokovic for failing to meet vaccine exemption requirements.

The world No 1 is is also challenging the visa cancellation in the federal court.

Under Australia’s border restrictions, an unvaccinated person can only enter the country if they have a valid medical exemption. It is understood that Djokovic was relying on a previous Covid infection to claim the exemption, but this is not recognised as a grounds for an exception by the Australian government.

Morrison said he understood the Serbian government’s position, but the rules “apply to all those who enter”.

“I am aware of representations that have been made by the embassy here in Canberra and I understand those, but my simple point is that all countries have their border rules and these rules are not imposed against any one country or any one individual,” Morrison said.

“There is no suggestion of any particular position in relation to Serbia. In fact, Serbia has been a good friend of Australia and provided very strong support, particularly on security issues globally, and we greatly appreciate that.

“This is a very specific case that deals with one individual and Australia’s sovereign border laws and their fair application.”

While Morrison insisted Djokovic had not been “singled out”, the prime minister said that he had attracted the attention of Australian border authorities because of his public statements about vaccination.

“They [border force] act on intelligence to direct their attention to potential arrivals,” Morrison said.

“When you get people making public statements, of what they say they have, and what they are going to do, and what their claims are, well they draw significant attention to themselves.

“And anyone who does that, whether they are a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player, a journalist, whoever does that, well they can expect to be asked questions more than others before you come, that is how border force works.”

Morrison also read part of a letter sent by the health minister, Greg Hunt, to Tennis Australia in November making clear that a previous infection was not grounds for quarantine-free entry into Australia.

“People must be fully vaccinated, as defined by Atagi, to gain quarantine-free entry into Australia,” the letter of 29 November said.

“This means that people who do not meet the Atagi definition of fully vaccinated will not be approved for quarantine-free entry, regardless of whether they have received foreign vaccination exemptions.

“In relation to your specific question, I can confirm that people who contracted Covid within six months and seek to enter Australia from overseas, and have not received two doses of a TGA approved or recognised vaccine … are not considered fully vaccinated.”

An earlier letter was also sent to Tennis Australia from the federal health department.

Morrison dismissed as “scuttlebutt” suggestions that federal officers had contacted the Victorian government to seek a solution that could have seen the Victorian government sponsor Djokovic.

“There were no inquiries being made about support for a visa application, I am advised.

“There were inquiries being made about whether quarantine was going to be waived … [but] that wasn’t the basis of any decisions taken.”

After the decision, which is being appealed by Djokovic, the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, took to Instagram in support of the “strong” tennis great, saying they had spoken on the phone.

“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him,” Vučić said.

“Our authorities are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end, immediately.”

The Serbian embassy has been contacted for comment.