Defiant Djokovic joined by Czech player at Australian immigration hotel | Top news

By Courtney Walsh and Cordelia Hsu

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Tennis world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was joined in Australian immigration detention by Czech player Renata Voracova on Friday in a row over COVID-19 vaccines that could sabotage the Serbian’s shot during a a record 21st Grand Slam.

Both players were being held at the modest Park Hotel in downtown Melbourne, where dozens of asylum seekers are also housed behind gray walls and locked windows.

Unlike Djokovic, whose determination to resist expulsion and compete at the Australian Open rallied his native country, Voracova, 81st, planned to leave after being caught in similar circumstances, the Czech ministry said. Foreign Affairs in a statement.

“Renata Voracova has decided to abandon the tournament due to limited training opportunities and to leave Australia,” he said, adding that he had made a diplomatic protest and that several other players were caught up in the process. the same situation.

Djokovic, who opposes mandatory vaccinations and was widely criticized in 2020 for hosting a tournament as the pandemic first raged, was held up at the airport on Wednesday. Authorities have revoked a visa granted on the basis of a medical exemption from Australia’s strict vaccination requirements.

The Australian Border Force (ABF) said on Friday that one person voluntarily left Australia while a third person’s visa was also revoked. He did not give names.

The initial decision to grant Djokovic entry outraged many in Australia, which is battling its worst wave of infections and has an adult vaccination rate of over 90%.

Canberra on Friday dismissed suggestions from Serbian fans, including Djokovic’s family, that he was a prisoner. “He is free to go whenever he wishes,” Home Secretary Karen Andrews told reporters.

Djokovic’s lawyers have obtained legal approval for him to stay until a full court hearing against the federal government on Monday. This should reveal more details about the exemption granted to Djokovic and the documentation he provided at the border to justify it.

On Friday, the player took to Instagram to thank his supporters around the world amid the visa row.

“Thank you people all over the world for your continued support. I can feel it and it’s much appreciated,” he wrote.

The Australian Open begins on January 17, but the multi-millionaire superstar sportsman is forced to practice as he sits in a hotel where an Iranian inmate said he found maggots and mold in the bread.

Djokovic, 34, did not reveal the reasons for his exemption and has always refused to disclose his vaccination status. Vaccinations are not compulsory in Australia but are compulsory for certain activities.

Hailed as a hero online by anti-vaccination campaigners, Djokovic’s plight has drawn a mixed response from his peers.

Former world number one Boris Becker, who coached Djokovic, said he was making a big mistake with his anti-vaccination stance. “He is the one who threatens what remains of his career and his chance to establish himself as the greatest player of all time,” Becker wrote in the Daily Mail newspaper.

Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who like Djokovic has won 20 Grand Slams, said he was sorry for his rival “but at the same time he knew the conditions for many months”.

Australian Nick Kyrgios said he supported vaccination “but the way we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad”.

Djokovic’s wife Jelena posted a photo of the couple kissing on a beach to mark Orthodox Christmas, saying: “The only law we should all respect across every border is love and respect for each other. ‘another human being’.

Djokovic had received permission to enter Victoria without vaccinations from the state government, which however does not have the power to issue visas to international visitors.

The Age newspaper reported that the exemption was due to him having contracted COVID-19 within the past six months.

Tennis Australia and Victoria government officials said Djokovic had not received any preferential treatment, adding he was among a handful of waiver approvals in an anonymous, independent assessment of 26 applications.

Some critics say Prime Minister Scott Morrison is using the issue to bolster his pandemic-fighting credentials with an election looming, which the government denies.

The Professional Tennis Players Association, a splinter group started by Djokovic, said it was in contact with him.

“Djokovic has confirmed his well-being to us,” the group said in a statement. “He also requested that we allow him to personally share the facts of his detention in his own words and at his own pace.”

(Reporting by Courtney Walsh and Cordelia Hsu; Additional reporting by Robert Muller in Prague; Writing by Jane Wardell and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by William Mallard, Alison Williams and Hugh Lawson)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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