Novak Djokovic’s team have set out their legal case for keeping him in Australia, but they may not be able to save him from more reputational damage.
And not just the world No1, because the Federal Court hearing being held on Monday in Melbourne is likely to hurt everyone concerned with this increasingly tawdry episode.
A 35-page document submitted on Saturday by the lawyers for the Australian Open champion shows how they will attack last week’s dramatic decision to bar him from entering the country.
Novak Djokovic is pictured mingling with children one day after he allegedly received a positive Covid test
The same day as the test he is pictured attending a ceremony in his honour in Belgrade
Its central revelation is that a test which proved positive was ‚recorded‘ on December 16, although it is not entirely clear when exactly he received the results.
Particularly damaging for the player is that there are pictures of him attending a ceremony that day in Belgrade for the awarding of a national postage stamp in his honour. Then there are pictures dated the following day of him present at a large indoor event for his children’s charity, in which he is maskless. Serbian regulations dictate that people need to self-isolate for 14 days following a positive diagnosis.
Pictures emerged on Saturday that further suggest Djokovic had a cavalier attitude towards his PCR test.
According to French publication L’Equipe he took part for their ‚Champion of Champions‘ awards photo shoot while there was also a video of him playing tennis in the street with passers by on Christmas Day.
Djokovic was also a panellist in a discussion at Belgrade’s Novak Tennis Centre on December 17
In another blow to the integrity of the processes put in place by Tennis Australia for those wanting a vaccine exemption, a document sent to players shows that the deadline for the kind of application he was making was December 10.
The case is being heard overnight tonight our time, and meanwhile the nine-time singles winner remains in a detention hotel while his fate is determined.
One thing for certain is that his grounds for entry were based on this recent positive test, which came in what was a busy week for the player, in which he made several high-profile appearances.
Two days before the test was recorded he attended a basketball match, indoors without a mask, between Srvena Zvezda and Barca Basket. There is a picture of him posing with the Spanish team’s player Nigel Hayes-Davis, who was announced on December 16 as having tested positive.
Djokovic never made any public mention of his diagnosis, even though at the same time several top players, including Emma Raducanu, were reporting that they had caught the virus at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi.
There will be a court hearing on Monday to determine whether he is deported from Australia
Following a subsequent spell of being clear of symptoms, the Serbian star says that he received documentation from Australia’s Home Affairs Department on January 1 that he had met the requirements for being allowed in.
The player has hired top Melbourne lawyers, who will attempt to punch holes in the country’s Covid entry regulations and the processes which applied to his particular case. Among other things the legal document details the exact timeline of how he arrived shortly before midnight, and was held until 8.30am before there was confirmation that he was not free to go about his business. In that time they say he was largely ‚incommunicado‘.
The document made public shows that, apart from legally unpicking how his arrival was handled, there will be a focus on what is known as the Balance of Convenience in Australian law.
The lawyers, who are not making any comment until after the legal case is heard, nevertheless spell out their arguments in the context of current Covid figures which show that on Saturday there were 51,000 cases recorded in the state of Victoria.
Djokovic spent another day in his detention hotel ahead of his court case on Monday
They refer to ‚the complete disproportion between the serious consequences of cancellation (on the one hand), as compared with the miniscule or non-existent risk to health he posed if permitted to enter Australia, given: (a) as mentioned above Mr Djokovic was at reduced risk of re-infection on account of recent Covid, and if because of that reduced risk he did not contract Covid then he could not spread it; and (b) in any event (as is notorious) the number of Covid cases per day in Australia and in Victoria specifically were, at the time of cancellation, measured in the tens of thousands.‘
They will be trying to gain an injunction allowing him to stay beyond the end of January, by which time the tournament will have finished anyway. Tennis Australia supremo Craig Tiley is under huge pressure, particularly as he has tried throughout to portray entry processes as being conducted independent of his organisation, while clearly there was plenty of contact with Djokovic.
Djokovic’s team say that Tennis Australia actually filled out his complex Australian Travel Declaration Form for him.
Djokovic stands holding the Australia Open men’s title with Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley
In a video to staff, published in Australian News Corp newspapers on Saturday, Tiley tells them: ‚There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on and a lot of blaming going on, but I can assure you our team has done an unbelievable job and have done everything they possibly could according to all the instructions that they have been provided.‘
Amid all the confusion it was confirmed on Saturday that former Wimbleton doubles semi-finalist Renata Voracova flew out of Australia last night, having been picked up by officials after already playing a warm-up event for the Australian Open.
A Border Force statement said it had concluded its investigations and added: ‚The ABF employ a multi-layered approach to border management. This includes avenues to investigate, locate and detain non-citizens who have been found, after their arrival in Australia, to have breached our border entry requirements.‘
Player sentiment appears to be tilting more towards Djokovic because of his current captivity. Nick Kyrgios, with whom he has previously clashed off the court, pointed out that Djokovic had helped Australia during the 2020 bushfire crisis.
‚I reckon he’s going to be ped off,‘ the maverick Australian said on Saturday. ‚He’s going to be very determined to play well and stick it to everyone.‘