Thursday, January 20, 2022
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Waiting for Minister Hawke: Djokovic still in limbo

Melbourne – For a brief moment, it looked as if the decision in the Novak Djokovic case was imminent. Out of nowhere, the makers of the Australian Open postponed the draw for the first Grand Slam tournament of the tennis season, which was scheduled for 3pm local time.

Did this mean that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had made a decision? Will Djokovic have to leave the country after all? About an hour and a press conference by government leader Scott Morrison with no news on the matter later, the draw did take place – with the world number one drawn to play his Serbian compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.

But whether that match will ever happen remains uncertain. Immigration Minister Hawke alone has the power to decide whether Djokovic will be allowed to compete for his tenth Australian Open title from Monday, or whether his visa will be revoked again and he will have to leave Australia after all. But Hawke continues to hesitate, even on the third day after Djokovic’s success in court, he has not yet commented on the case that is currently occupying the entire tennis world, Australia and Serbia more than anything else.

Government leader Morrison did not want to prejudge his minister and refused to comment on the issue. “These are personal ministerial powers that Minister Hawke can use and I’m not going to comment further on that at this stage,” Morrison said in Canberra. According to a report in The Age newspaper, the decision will now be made on Friday at the earliest. The paper referred to government circles.

On Wednesday, it had emerged that new information from the 34-year-old Djokovic’s lawyers had pushed back the timeline for Hawke’s decision. After the fiasco for the government in the first court case, when Djokovic had to be re-issued the visa because of a formal error, the minister apparently wants to make a decision this time that will stand up to the quite certain objections of Djokovic’s lawyers in case he is deported again.

The pressure on Hawke is great. From many sides. The mood in Australia – with the exception of the Serbian community – is clearly against Djokovic. Many Australians have experienced many hardships in the now almost two years of the pandemic. No city in the world combined has been in lockdown as long as Melbourne. Even many Australians from abroad were not allowed to enter the country for a long time, missing weddings, funerals and other family gatherings.

Many unanswered questions

The understanding of a medical exemption for an unvaccinated multi-millionaire playing tennis is therefore low. Especially as there are still many questions surrounding the approval of Djokovic’s visa. The Serb’s explanation on Instagram on Wednesday, in which he admitted to a few mistakes but mostly sought to blame others for them, was not the liberating blow he had hoped for.

On the contrary. Meanwhile, the Spanish authorities have apparently also turned a blind eye to Djokovic’s stay in Marbella shortly before his departure for Australia. Everything points to Djokovic having entered the EU country illegally shortly before New Year’s Eve, as the usually well-informed radio station Cadena Cope and other Spanish media reported. When he entered the country, he neither presented a vaccination certificate nor applied for the special permit that is mandatory for unvaccinated Serbs in Spain, they said, citing the Spanish Foreign Ministry in Madrid. The government in Madrid had instructed the police to open an investigation.

High infection figures in Victoria state

For the Australian government, the Djokovic case is also explosive in light of the fact that the state of Victoria, where the Australian Open is being held, has seen immensely high infection figures. On Thursday, more than 37,000 new cases were registered within 24 hours. In addition, there were 25 deaths linked to Covid-19 and 953 people were admitted to hospitals. Because of the rising Corona numbers, the Melbourne regional government has announced it will limit spectator numbers at the first Grand Slam tournament of the year to 50 per cent of capacity.

But perhaps Hawke is simply playing for time. The closer it gets to the start of the Australian Open this Monday, the less time Djokovic’s lawyers would have to appeal another expulsion in court. The daily newspaper “The Age” wrote that Djokovic’s side hoped that in the event of a negative decision by Hawke on Friday, the court could then deal with the case at the weekend. But that is not certain.

And as long as there is no clarity, Djokovic will continue to prepare for the start of the tournament as normal. For Friday, the organisers around tournament boss Craig Tiley, who wants Djokovic to be there at all costs, announced a training session for the world number one at 2.45 pm. Will it actually take place? Only Minister Hawke can answer that.

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