Tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic’s court fight to remain in the country and defend his Australian Open title is set to go ahead after a late bid by federal government lawyers to delay the case.
Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly on Saturday rejected the application to adjourn the virtual hearing until Wednesday, directing that Djokovic’s submissions be presented at 10am on Monday.
Submissions on behalf of Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews will follow at 3pm, subject to any further adjournment application.
The 34-year-old Serb has been in immigration detention in Melbourne since Thursday morning after having his visa cancelled by the federal government.
Documents released by the Federal Court on Saturday show Djokovic contracted COVID-19 on December 16 and was free from symptoms before he arrived in Australia.
His lawyers will argue that he met the criteria for a temporary exemption under Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines and that he was denied procedural fairness during the decision to revoke his visa.
Documents cite the ATAGI advice, including: “COVID-19 vaccination in people who have had PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection can be deferred for a maximum of six months after the acute illness, as a temporary exemption due to acute major medical illness”.
Djokovic provided evidence that he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on December 16.
After his arrival on Wednesday evening, court papers show Djokovic had a sleepless night as he was questioned by authorities at times including 4am, before the visa revocation at 7.42am.
A partial transcript of that interview included “you have stated you are not vaccinated against COVID-19”.
Djokovic has previously declined to confirm his vaccination status.
An outline of his case says Djokovic had received a letter from Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer on December 30 recording that he had been provided with a “medical exemption from COVID vaccination” on the ground that he had recently recovered from COVID,.
In a letter leaked to media, Tennis Australia rejected that players were knowingly misled, insisting organisers had followed “instructions”.
The parties have agreed that oral submissions should not exceed two hours in court.
It comes as Novak Djokovic’s parents joined a protest rally in downtown Belgrade as the world No.1’s fans in Serbia nervously await the crucial court hearing.
The case has elicited heartfelt support for the tennis star in his native Serbia.
“Today is a big day. Today, the whole world will hear the truth,” Djokovic’s mother, Dijana Djokovic, told the crowd in Belgrade on Sunday.
“We hope that Novak will come out as a free man. We send great love to Novak. We believe in him, but also in the independent judiciary in Melbourne,” she said.
Djokovic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, said “this is happening because we are only a small part of the world, but we are proud people.
“They can’t break us. Novak is the personification of freedom, everything human that one man contains in himself. Shame on them!”
Dijana Djokovic said that the conditions in the hotel in Melbourne where Djokovic is staying are “not humane.”
“He doesn’t even have breakfast,” she said. “He has a wall to stare at and he can’t even see a park in front or go out of the room.”