Novak Djokovic has been left stranded overnight in a police-guarded room at Melbourne airport amid a visa mix-up that could derail his hopes of defending his Australian Open title.
Meanwhile, his father Srdjan Djokovic has issued an urgent statement to the Australian government, asking them to free his son.
‘I have no idea what’s going on, they’re holding my son captive for five hours,’ he said. ‘This is not a fight for the libertarian world, this is not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world!’ he said.
‘If they don’t let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street, this is a fight for everybody.’
His father told a Serbian radio station his superstar son was being kept isolated in a room without access to his support staff or a mobile phone.
‘In front of the room are two policemen,’ he told the B92 internet portal.
The extraordinary, escalating soap opera surrounding the world’s best men’s player took a new turn on Wednesday night when he flew straight into a political storm and a visa controversy on arrival into Tullamarine Airport on a 14-hour flight from Dubai.
The nine-time Open champion may have been armed with the vaccination exemption that will allow him to compete in Melbourne but apparently not with the correct visa to enter the country.
As of 4.00am on Thursday, the Serbian star still hadn’t gotten through passport control, and had endured several hours of discussions with Border Force officials.
Meanwhile, Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic has taken to social media to give fans a small insight into the team’s predicament.
The photo features himself and physiotherapist Ulises Badio kicking back on large armchairs with the caption: ‘Not the most usual trip Down Under’.
A Serbian fan has rushed to Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport with flag in hand to send support to the superstar player as he awaits his fate in an isolated room.
The 34-year-old, never a stranger to controversy, has found himself the subject of a major public backlash in Australia after revealing on Tuesday that he’d received the vaccination exemption which allowed him to bid for a record 21st major title.
However, the late night visa chaos has left his appearance at the Open in doubt, after it was alleged his team had submitted an application for a visa that doesn’t allow medical exemptions.
There are now doubts whether his exemption – believed to be related to a previous Covid infection in the past six months – is even valid under federal guidelines, which dictates who is allowed across Australia’s border.
Federal Border Force officials learnt while Djokovic was in the air that he would be trying to enter the country on a visa that doesn’t permit medical exemptions for being unvaccinated, sources said.
As a result, they contacted the Victorian government late on Wednesday night to ask it to formally help facilitate his entry into the country – but this was rejected.
‘They may have to send him or put him in immigration detention,’ one source told Melbourne’s Herald Sun.
Acting sports minister Jaala Pulford confirmed the state government would not support the application.
‘The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia,’ Ms Pulford tweeted at 11.14pm.
‘We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.
‘We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions a matter for doctors.’
Tournament director Craig Tiley insisted the world No.1 was getting no special treatment and Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the player ‘would be on the next plane home’ if he could not provide the proper evidence for his exemption.
‘If that evidence is insufficient, then he will be treated no different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.’
The prime minister added that any exemption given to Djokovic will still have to stack up upon arrival in Australia.
‘There are other cases — there are quite a number over the last couple of years — where people have had these exemptions and have the suitable proof to support their claim in those circumstances,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘So the circumstance is not unique. The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for the exemption.’
As Djokovic was left in isolation to ponder this astonishing start to his trip, there were also growing demands for him to clear up any doubts over the reasons for why he’d been given the exemption.
Australian tennis great Rod Laver believes Djokovic owes everyone an explanation.
‘If he’s got a reason for (the exemption) then… we should know it,’ the 11-time grand slam winner told News Corp.
‘Yes, you’re a great player and you’ve performed and won so many tournaments, so, it can’t be physical. So what is the problem?’
Laver said scenes on the court ‘could get ugly’ after Victorians went out and got vaccinated to end a 260-day lockdown that started in early 2020.
Currently, everyone entering Australia – even its own citizens – must be fully-vaccinated against Covid or face two weeks in hotel quarantine.
Toni Nadal, the uncle and long-time former coach of Djokovic’s great rival Rafael Nadal, urged him to clarify the situation.
Writing in his newspaper column in El Pais, Nadal said: ‘There are almost six million people who have lost their lives due to this damn virus and many other millions who have received the vaccine.
‘I want to think that Novak is no stranger to all this and that he will clear up the doubts as a sign of human sensitivity and understanding.’
Even the great Rod Laver, fearing that Djokovic’s participation on the court named after him at Melbourne Park could see passions running high, wants him the Serb to open up.
‘I think it might get ugly. I’d think the Victorian people would be thinking, ‘Yes I’d love to see him play and compete but at the same time, there’s a right way and a wrong way’.
‘If he’s got a reason for (the exemption) then … we should know it.’
Australia’s world No.1 Ash Barty said: ‘I think it’s a tough one. As we’ve seen a little bit in the last day or so, from the Australian public, I know how hard it has been for Australians… but in particular Victorians have had a real rough trot over the last 18 months and two years.
‘I understand why they may be frustrated with the decision. Ultimately, I have no interest in speaking about Novak’s medical history. It’s not my decision. Those decisions are made. They’re completely out of my control.’
Source: Thanks msn.com