Tennis Star Novak Djokovic Denied Entry to Australia Over Vax Status, Has Visa Pulled

Tennis star Novak Djokovic's entry into Australia has been denied after an issue was discovered in his visa application stemming from the medical exemption he received in order to play in the upcoming Australian Open.

The Australian Border Force issued a statement early Thursday local time saying Djokovic failed to provide the required evidence to enter into the Victorian city of Melbourne, and therefore "his visa has been subsequently canceled," according to the Associated Press.

Australian media reported that after arriving around midnight local time Wednesday, Djokovic applying for the wrong kind of visa led to the Serbian tennis player spending hours at the Tullamarine Airport while the issue was investigated.

Djokovic was reportedly held in a room guarded by police after the issue related to his visa was discovered.

Djokovic announced Tuesday on social media that he had received the exemption and would be competing in the tournament.

The tennis star reportedly arrived at Tullamarine Airport around midnight local time Wednesday, and The Age newspaper reported that his entry process was delayed when a mistake in his visa application was discovered.

The Victorian state government mandated that entrance to Melbourne Park, where the tournament will begin on January 17, would be limited to players, officials, fans and other staff who are fully vaccinated.

The exemption Djokovic received would allow him to play no matter his vaccination status, which he has not confirmed one way or the other. However, he needs to be in accordance with the medical regulations of the specific state and localities he is in.

Australian Open director Craig Tiley said only 26 people involved with the tournament applied for a medical exemption and only a "handful" were granted. He also said that while Djokovic is not obligated to reveal why he chose to seek an exemption, it could help his public case to explain the decision.

Novak Djokovic, Australian Open, COVID Vaccine Exemption
Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a backhand against Marin Cilic of Croatia during their Davis Cup semifinal match at Madrid Arena pavilion Monday in Madrid, Spain. Djokovic is reportedly being held in a room in Australia without being allowed to leave while an issue with his visa and a COVID vaccine medical exemption is figured out. Juan Naharro/Getty Images for Lexus

Djokovic is a nine-time Australian Open winner and the defending champion.

"Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter," Djokovic's father, Srdjan Djokovic, told the B92 internet portal. "In front of the room are two policemen."

Speculation of a possible issue with the visa emerged while Djokovic was in transit and escalated with mixed messages from federal and state lawmakers.

Djokovic's revelation on social media that he was heading to Australia seeking a record 21st major title sparked some debate and plenty of headlines on Wednesday, with critics questioning what grounds he could have for the exemption and backers arguing he has a right to privacy and freedom of choice.

Tiley defended the "completely legitimate application and process" and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic.

The names, ages and nationalities of applicants were redacted for privacy reasons before each application for a vaccine exemption was assessed by two independent panels of experts, and Tiley noted Djokovic is under no obligation to reveal his reason for seeking one.

"I would encourage him to talk to the community about it," Tiley said. "We have been through a very tough period over the last two years."

Among the reasons allowed for those applying for a vaccination exemption can include acute major medical conditions, serious adverse reaction to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, or evidence of a COVID-19 infection within the previous six months.

Jaala Pulford, Victoria state's acting minister for sports, acknowledged in the Djokovic case that lots of people in the community "will find this to be a disappointing outcome," but added: "Nobody has had special treatment. The process is incredibly robust."

Concerns about Djokovic's visa status took awhile to circulate.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison initially said the medical exemption decision was a matter for the government of Victoria, where Melbourne is the state capital.

"They have provided [Djokovic] with an exemption to come to Australia, and so we then act in accordance with that," Morrison said. "States provide exemptions for people to enter on those basis, and that's been happening for the last two years."

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews then clarified in a statement that the Australian Border Force would make the final determination.

"While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border," Andrews said. "If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travelers."

When asked again about Djokovic's case, Morrison added: "If that evidence is insufficient, then he won't be treated any different to anyone else and he'll be on the next plane home."

"And so if medical exemptions had been provided by medical professionals and that's been furnished to him as a proviso for him to get on that plane, well, that will have to stack up when he arrives in Australia," the prime minister said.

Later still, Pulford, the Victoria state politician, posted on Twitter to say "the federal government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic's application to enter Australia."

She said the state government would not be providing individual application support, adding in a second post: "We've always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors."

Djokovic tested positive for the coronavirus in 2020 after he played in a series of exhibition matches that he organized in Serbia and Croatia without social distancing amid the pandemic.

It's possible that the 34-year-old Djokovic, who finished one win short of a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2021 when he lost the U.S. Open final to Daniil Medvedev, could have been infected again.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.