Novak Djokovic is to be deported from Australia after the country’s federal court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa.
A hastily convened hearing on Sunday dismissed Djokovic’s challenge against the deportation order, with the three judge panel ruling unanimously in favour of the government’s action.
The deportation order is the second the world’s top-ranked men’s tennis player has faced in Australia in as many weeks, as he sought to stay in Melbourne to defend his Australian Open title. The tournament begins on Monday.
Apart from a short adjournment to consider any additional orders, Djokovic is expected to be deported imminently, as he does not hold a valid visa to stay in Australia.
Alex Hawke, the immigration minister, invoked his personal powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa late on Friday. Hawke argued that it was in the public interest to deport the Serbian tennis star on the basis that his presence in the country could excite anti-vaccination sentiment.
“I am extremely disappointed with the court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” Djokovic said in a statement. “I respect the court’s ruling and I will co-operate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.”
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, welcomed the court’s ruling in favour of the visa cancellation, which he said had been made “on health, safety and good order grounds”.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said in a statement.
Djokovic, who has publicly opposed mandatory vaccination in the past and is not vaccinated, entered the country last week with a medical exemption.
However, he was detained at the airport in Melbourne, as the Australian Border Force argued that the tennis star could not provide sufficient evidence to justify his exemption.
His visa was initially cancelled, but that decision was quashed by the courts last week, setting up a closely watched confrontation over whether Hawke would use his powers of office to deport the athlete.
In the latest case, the government did not rely on the rules regarding vaccinations for non-citizens entering the country, which it said Djokovic had breached, nor the mistake on his entry documents that was revealed in his first challenge.
Instead, it argued that the tennis champion’s prominent public status and vaccination status could make him an icon for those opposed to Covid-19 control policies, whether he liked it or not.
The government’s lawyers raised Djokovic’s admission that he had attended an interview with French magazine L’Equipe last month after testing positive for Covid-19 as an example of his apparent disregard of public safety.
Djokovic’s second attempt to overturn his deportation was not an appeal, but a review of the legality of the minister’s actions, meaning that the legal bar for success was higher.
The court made no attempt to determine the merits of the minister’s arguments or “the wisdom of the decision”, said Chief Justice James Allsop.
The visa and vaccination scandal has overshadowed the Australian Open tournament, where Djokovic was seeking to set a men’s record for Grand Slam wins in the sport’s modern era. More than 85,000 people tuned in to watch a live stream of the hearing on Sunday.
The furore has also proved to be a political embarrassment for Morrison’s government, as it battles an outbreak of Omicron coronavirus cases and a supply chain breakdown in an election year.
The deportation order could also ban Djokovic from the country for three years. This would make him 37 years old before he could next contest the Australian Open, which he has won nine times.