Novak Djokovic saga: Australia investigates visas of other tennis players

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To play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.Media caption, Fans of tennis legend Novak Djokovic have gathered outside the player's hotel to voice their support

Australia has said it is investigating the visas of other foreign tennis players, after detaining Novak Djokovic in a chaotic row over vaccine rules.

The men's world number one remains in immigration detention in Melbourne and is facing deportation after his entry to the country was denied on Wednesday.

He has launched an urgent court challenge to be heard on Monday, a week before the Australian Open begins.

Now more uncertainty surrounds the tournament schedule.

In an interview, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said there was intelligence to "indicate there are some individuals here now that have not met the entry requirements and we have to investigate that," she told Channel 9 on Friday.

However, she did not say how many other players were under investigation or who they were.

Djokovic, who has said he is opposed to vaccination, had been granted a medical exemption to play in the tournament for unspecified reasons, a decision that infuriated many Australians.

The exemption was given by two independent medical panels organised by Tennis Australia, the body that runs the event, and Victoria state, tournament organisers said.

But on Wednesday, Australian Border Force (ABF) officials said the 34-year-old Serbian player had "failed to provide appropriate evidence" at Melbourne Airport.

"If he hasn't filled out the forms appropriately then he's taking the sovereign capacity of another nation for a joke," Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the BBC's Newshour programme.

"100% someone's made a mistake and if he hasn't told the truth then the person who's made the mistake is Mr Djokovic."

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The federal government has criticised Tennis Australia for ignoring ABF advice about the requirements for entry. On Friday, Victoria said Tennis Australia had also failed to pass on this advice.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also being accused of politicising the issue. The prime minister himself is under pressure amid the surge of Covid-19 infections in the country, and a federal election is likely to be held in May.

The row prompted Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to say Djokovic was a victim of "harassment" and that "the whole of Serbia" supported him.

Mr Morrison has denied the visa cancellation was because of "any particular position in relation to Serbia".

It is not yet clear how long Djokovic will remain in an immigration detention hotel that has often been criticised by refugees for its poor conditions. Serbia has demanded Australia move him to a nicer hotel.

Anger and embarrassment grows

Tensions and emotions have been high outside the hotel where Novak Djokovic is being kept. His supporters were there well after midnight into Friday.

Some wrote "stay strong" in big yellow letters on the pavement. Others lit candles.

"It's [the Orthodox] Christmas on Friday," a woman told me, visibly emotional. "He'll be alone up there. It's a farce."

There are many strands to this story. The anger. The politics. The visa. And of course, the tennis – which is what the world number one is here for.

Djokovic fans are furious that he's been allowed to come all the way to Australia only to be told he had to leave on a visa technicality.

But other Australians are outraged that a world-class athlete who's been vocal about his vaccine opposition was granted an exemption, while their own politicians have urged them for nearly a year now to get both jabs and now the booster.

Both shades of anger are understandable and they have at least one thing in common: fury about how the authorities have handled this.

There has been a continuous tussle – and lots of blame-shifting – between the state and federal governments and Tennis Australia.

Politicians have wanted to prove that they can control who comes in and out of the country but in doing so they have lost control of the narrative.

It's an embarrassing situation for Australia whichever way you look at it.

Djokovic's wife, Jelena, thanked people "all around the world for using your voice to send love to my husband".

The player's father, Srdjan, said his son had been held in a room guarded by police at the airport, adding that it was "not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world".

Djokovic drew qualified backing from Australian player Nick Kyrgios, who tweeted his support for vaccinations but said "how we are handling Novak's situation is bad, really bad".

But others such as Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal,currently in Melbourne to prepare for the tournament, said it was "normal" for Australians to get "very frustrated with the case".

"The only for me clear thing is if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open," he said, adding: "Of course after a lot of people had been dying for two years, my feeling is [that] the vaccine is the only way to stop this pandemic."

The Australian Open begins on 17 January. Djokovic has previously won the tournament nine times.

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