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Novak Djokovic: Leaked letter sheds new light on border chaos


A leaked letter has revealed that unvaccinated tennis players were told they could attend the Australian Open provided they had Covid within the last six months – piling pressure on Tennis Australia bosses over the Novak Djokovic border debacle. 

Guidance sent to players in early December and now leaked to the press lays out reasons that athletes can qualify for a ‘medical exemption’ to enter Australia, saying that ‘recently recovered cases’ will be allowed into the country.

To qualify for the exemption, players were told to provide a Covid-positive PCR test dated after July 31 along with antibody levels proving natural immunity ‘if available’. 

They were told it would help their case if they could prove they planned to be jabbed after the six-month immunity from infection had worn off.

It is believed that Djokovic travelled to Australia using this exemption only to be stopped at the border and told that he didn’t meet requirements, leaving him facing the prospect of being deported.

He is now holed up in a Covid quarantine hotel near Melbourne airport while his legal team appeal the decision, with the case due in court Monday.

The leak will heap pressure on Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley to prove what he was told and when, and why exactly that guidance was issued to players. 

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Novak Djokovic (left and right with wife Jelena) is currently stuck inside a quarantine hotel in Melbourne after being denied entry to play in the Australian Open

Leaked guidance that was sent to athletes hoping to play in the tournament in early December lays out the ground for a medical exemption certificate

Leaked guidance that was sent to athletes hoping to play in the tournament in early December lays out the ground for a medical exemption certificate

The guidance includes a paragraph which clearly states those who have recovered from Covid within the last six months will be exmept from vaccination requirements

The guidance includes a paragraph which clearly states those who have recovered from Covid within the last six months will be exmept from vaccination requirements

Victoria premier Jacinta Allan, whose state granted Djokovic a medical exemption, said that only permits him to play in the tournament - not enter the country

Victoria premier Jacinta Allan, whose state granted Djokovic a medical exemption, said that only permits him to play in the tournament – not enter the country

Allan pointed the finger of blame at tennis boss Craig Tiley (pictured), after it emerged he was twice warned that evidence of prior Covid infection was not sufficient for border exemption

Allan pointed the finger of blame at tennis boss Craig Tiley (pictured), after it emerged he was twice warned that evidence of prior Covid infection was not sufficient for border exemption 

Mr Tiley was already under pressure after Jacinta Allan, acting Victorian premier, accused him of failing to disclose guidance he was given in November saying that prior infections would not count at border control.

She denied that a medical exemption issued by her state had qualified Djokovic to cross the Australian border, saying it only gave him access to venues in the state.

Ms Allan said: ‘It is the Commonwealth government … that’s responsible for issuing visas and how they engage in that dialogue with bodies like Tennis Australia is a matter for them.’ 

Exemptions to play in the Australian Open are ‘very much separate from the visa process,’ Allan added.  

Amid the fallout from the decision, which has sparked street protests in Djokovic’s native Serbia led by his parents, wife Jelena broke her silence to lend support to her husband on Instagram – writing: ‘Thank you dear people, all around the world for using your voice to send love to my husband. 

‘I am taking a deep breath to calm down and find gratitude (and understanding) in this moment for all that is happening.

‘The only law that we should all respect across every single border is Love and respect for another human being. Love and forgiveness is never a mistake but a powerful force.’

Djokovic is currently holed up in a Covid detention hotel – likened to a ‘torture chamber’ – near Melbourne airport where he will remain until at least Monday when an appeal against the decision to tear up his visa will reach the courts.

Supporters of the tennis star turned up outside the hotel Friday, which is also Christmas Day according to the Orthodox faith which is predominant in Serbia.

“We come out to support him just because it’s our Christmas and obviously he’s going through a lot,” said fan Sash Aleksic on the sodden street outside the building.

“There would obviously be a lot more people here if people did not have family obligations today.”

They were joined by a mixture of human rights activists, because the hotel is also used to house migrants who have tested positive for Covid while detained on islands off the mainland. Some carried banners denouncing the tennis star.  

The Australian Open was dealt a further blow today as Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews revealed two other international arrivals were being investigated after travelling to Australia in similar circumstances for the Open.

‘I can confirm the Australian Border Force is conducting its inquiries … I am aware that there are two individuals currently being investigated by Australian Border Force,’ Andrews told Channel Seven. 

Amid the fallout, Novak's wife Jelena penned an Instagram post in support of her husband (pictured) -thanking people for their support

Amid the fallout, Novak’s wife Jelena penned an Instagram post in support of her husband (pictured) -thanking people for their support

Djokovic is currently holed up inside a quarantine hotel in Melbourne as supporters gathered outside to wish him a happy Christmas because Orthodox Christians mark the day of Jesus's birth on January 7

Djokovic is currently holed up inside a quarantine hotel in Melbourne as supporters gathered outside to wish him a happy Christmas because Orthodox Christians mark the day of Jesus’s birth on January 7

Opponents of the Serbian tennis star, who has courted controversy in the past by opposing vaccines, also gathered outside the hotel

Opponents of the Serbian tennis star, who has courted controversy in the past by opposing vaccines, also gathered outside the hotel

The quarantine hotel has been likened to a 'torture chamber' by human rights activists who oppose keeping refugees in isolation there

The quarantine hotel has been likened to a ‘torture chamber’ by human rights activists who oppose keeping refugees in isolation there

Andrews said anyone entering Australia had to show evidence of vaccination or medical reasons why they are not vaccinated.

‘We do have the intelligence to indicate there are some individuals here now that have not met the entry requirements and we have to investigate that,’ Andrews said earlier on the Nine Network.

‘I know there is a lot of chatter about the visa. The visa, on my understanding, is not the issue, it is the entry requirement.

‘The Border Force has been very clear that he (Novak) was not able to meet the requirement to provide the evidence he needed for entry to Australia.’

Beyond the quiet of Djokovic’s hotel, the outcry in his native Serbia is growing with his family saying he had been ‘held captive’ and insisting the treatment of one of sport’s greatest performers was a disgrace.

His family complained about the hotel as around 300 fans held a rally in front of the country’s parliament building in the capital Belgrade,

‘It’s just some small immigration hotel, if we can call it a hotel at all. Some bugs, it’s dirty, and the food is so terrible,’ Djokovic’s mother Dijana said in a press conference.

His father Srdjan promised the crowd the protests would be held every day until Djokovic was released.

Nearer to home, former Davis Cup player Paul McNamee who ran the Australian Open from 1995 until 2006 as tournament director, joined those who think the 34-year-old deserved his day on court, not in court.

‘It’s not fair. The guy played by the rules, he got his visa, he arrives, he’s a nine-time champion and whether people like it or not he’s entitled to fair play,’ McNamee told ABC News.

‘There’s no doubt there’s some disconnect between the state and the federal government. I hate to think politics are involved but it feels that way.’

Djokovic, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, has garnered headlines in recent years for his stance on Covid vaccines that has enhanced his reputation as a polorising figure.

He first spoke out against vaccination back in April 2020, when the first wave of Covid was spreading and before a jab had even been developed, to say he was not in favour of getting one.

Srdjan and Diana Djokovic, the tennis star's parents, have been leading protests in his native Serbia against the decision - calling it politically motivated

Srdjan and Diana Djokovic, the tennis star’s parents, have been leading protests in his native Serbia against the decision – calling it politically motivated

Djokovic tweeted in advance of his arrival in Australia that he had been granted a medical exemption to play, before running into trouble with border guards

Djokovic tweeted in advance of his arrival in Australia that he had been granted a medical exemption to play, before running into trouble with border guards 

Further controversy came in June when he hosted a Balkans tennis tournament with no mask wearing or social distancing measures in place that led to several players – including himself – getting infected with Covid.

As vaccines were rolled out last year and travel rules relaxed for those who had taken the jab, Djokovic remained silent about his own status – leading many to suspect he had not been jabbed and would not be allowed to play at the Australian Open.

But come December, his name was announced on lists for both the Open and the warm-up ATP Cup – with Tennis Australia revealing earlier this month that he had been granted a medical exemption.

That prompted a furious backlash from Australians who have been suffering under some of the world’s strictest virus control measures for two years, including tight border rules and bans for the unvaccinated.

Amid the furor, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday that Djokovic’s visa had been cancelled at the airport and he would be sent home.

While the decision delighted Djokovic’s critics and many ordinary Australians, it also sparked recriminations for Mr Morrison, finger-pointing between the bodies involved, and allegations of political grandstanding.

Djokovic’s father insists he’s being ‘kept in captivity… to stomp all over Serbia and Serbian people’ in a fiery speech which also likened the sportsman to Jesus.

‘Jesus was crucified on the cross … but he is still alive among us,’ Srdjan said. ‘They are trying to crucify and belittle Novak and throw him to his knees.’

The comments came as Djokovic’s parents slammed ‘idiot’ Australian officials for detaining him in a refugee hotel as a bitter war of words erupted after the tennis star had his visa cancelled.

Srdjan railed against his ‘imprisonment’ saying he is the victim of a ‘political attack’, having been made a ‘scapegoat’ of Australia’s harsh vaccine rules.

He called on Serbians and people all around the world to ‘rise up’ and challenge the politicians and border agents who want to ‘humiliate’ their sporting star.

Less than six weeks after Covid was first declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, Novak Djokovic took part in an April 2020 Facebook live stream with fellow Serbian athletes to express his doubts over vaccines

Less than six weeks after Covid was first declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, Novak Djokovic took part in an April 2020 Facebook live stream with fellow Serbian athletes to express his doubts over vaccines

How has the Djokovic saga unfolded since the pandemic began? 

Less than six weeks after Covid was first declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, Novak Djokovic took part in an April 2020 Facebook live stream with fellow Serbian athletes to express his doubts over vaccines.

A vaccination against Covid had not yet even been created, and yet Djokovic was already telling his fans he was ‘opposed to vaccination and wouldn’t want to be forced to take a vaccine in order to travel’. 

‘My job requires lots of travel. Some are saying that, for us who travel, we would have to take the vaccine that is yet to be developed. Therefore, I would like to repeat and point out that at this moment, we do not have adequate information,’ he said.

‘I am no expert, but I do want to have an option to choose what’s best for my body. I am keeping an open mind, and I’ll continue to research this topic because it is important and it will affect all of us.’

By June of the same year, Djokovic had tested positive to Covid, along with at least four of his colleagues.

He’d been playing an exhibition tournament that he organised in the Balkan region with limited health and safety protocols.

‘I am so deeply sorry our tournament caused harm. Everything the organisers and I did the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions… We were wrong and it was too soon. I can’t express how sorry I am for this and every case of infection,’ he said in a statement.

Even after his apology, Djokovic refused to reveal his vaccination status, describing it as his private medical information.

The Australian Open is the first competition since vaccines became available that has mandated the jab. 

It will be clearer come Monday whether Djokovic will be free to contest the title for a 10th year. 

And the tennis ace’s mother weighed in to say her son is being treated ‘like a prisoner’ in a Melbourne hotel used as refugee housing.

Dijana revealed she had briefly spoken to her son over the phone as he remains holed up in the Park Hotel in Carlton, Melbourne.

‘I spoke with him a couple of hours ago, he was good, we didn’t speak a lot but we spoke for a few minutes. He was trying to sleep, but he couldn’t,’ she said.

‘As a mother, what can I say, you can just imagine how I feel, I feel terrible since yesterday, the last 24 hours.’ 

But deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce hit back, saying Djokovic must be deported if he lied on his medical exemption form, accusing him of taking Australia ‘for a joke’.

He said ‘rich people are not above the law’ as Djokovic remains in the Park Hotel until Monday awaiting the outcome of an appeal against his eviction, to be held on Monday at 10am local time.

His exemption was given by two independent medical bodies, in a process organised by the state of Victoria and Tennis Australia, who are running the Australian Open, but the experts do not have the final say.

The exemption was based only on information provided by Djokovic, which was taken at face value, and it still had to be confirmed by border officials at the airport, but they refused Djokovic entry.

Speaking about the fraught situation, Mr Joyce told BBC’s Newshour: ‘If he hasn’t filled out the forms appropriately then he’s taking the sovereign capacity of another nation for a joke.

‘You can’t just wander around the world thinking that because you’re really rich you’re really above the laws of other nations.’

But Djokovic’s father Srdjan has hit back at ‘idiot’ Australian officials who he accuses of wanting to ‘humiliate’ the star, saying the other tennis players with a medical exemption were able to enter the country freely.

He said in a press conference today: ‘Novak and his team filed the same type of documents as those 25 other tennis players and they didn’t have any problems, just Novak.

‘They want to humiliate him. They could have said, “don’t come Novak” and that would have been OK. But no, they wanted to humiliate him and they’re still keeping him in prison.

‘He’s not in detention, he’s in prison. They took all of his stuff, even his wallet. They left him with just a phone and no change of clothes, nowhere to wash his face. He’s in prison. Our pride is a prisoner of these idiots.

‘Shame on them, the whole free world together with Serbia should rise. For freedom of expression, free speech, freedom of behaviour.’

How has the Djokovic saga unfolded since the pandemic began? 

Less than six weeks after Covid was first declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, Novak Djokovic took part in an April 2020 Facebook live stream with fellow Serbian athletes to express his doubts over vaccines.

A vaccination against Covid had not yet even been created, and yet Djokovic was already telling his fans he was ‘opposed to vaccination and wouldn’t want to be forced to take a vaccine in order to travel’. 

‘My job requires lots of travel. Some are saying that, for us who travel, we would have to take the vaccine that is yet to be developed. Therefore, I would like to repeat and point out that at this moment, we do not have adequate information,’ he said.

‘I am no expert, but I do want to have an option to choose what’s best for my body. I am keeping an open mind, and I’ll continue to research this topic because it is important and it will affect all of us.’

By June of the same year, Djokovic had tested positive to Covid, along with at least four of his colleagues.

He’d been playing an exhibition tournament that he organised in the Balkan region with limited health and safety protocols.

‘I am so deeply sorry our tournament caused harm. Everything the organisers and I did the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions… We were wrong and it was too soon. I can’t express how sorry I am for this and every case of infection,’ he said in a statement.

Even after his apology, Djokovic refused to reveal his vaccination status, describing it as his private medical information.

The Australian Open is the first competition since vaccines became available that has mandated the jab. 

It will be clearer come Monday whether Djokovic will be free to contest the title for a 10th year. 



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