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Djokovic lawyers say tennis star exempt from vaccine due to December COVID infection

World number 1, an outspoken vaccine sceptic, will have visa appeal heard in court on Monday; has asked to be moved from Australian detention hotel to facility where he can train

Protestors gather outside an immigration detention hotel where Serbia's Novak Djokovic is believed to stay, in Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 7, 2022 (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)
Protestors gather outside an immigration detention hotel where Serbia's Novak Djokovic is believed to stay, in Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 7, 2022 (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

SYDNEY — Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic was given a COVID-19 vaccine exemption because he tested positive for the virus in December, his lawyers said in a court filing Saturday, three days after Australian border agents placed him in a Melbourne detention center.

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic was denied entry at the Melbourne airport late Wednesday after border officials cancelled his visa for failing to meet its entry requirement that all non-citizens be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The date of the first positive COVID PCR test was recorded on 16 December 2021,” his lawyers said in a filing to the federal court seeking to overturn the cancellation of his Australian entry visa.

Djokovic, an outspoken vaccine sceptic, will have his appeal heard in court on Monday.

The tennis player has also requested to be moved to a facility where he can train for the Australian Open, his lawyers said.

Djokovic was given a medical exemption backed by the Victoria state government and Australian Open organizers based on information he supplied to two independent medical panels.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open defending champion, waits at an Australian Border Force desk on his arrival at Melbourne Airport, Jan. 5, 2022 (AP Photo)

But it has since emerged that the medical exemption, allowed for people who tested positive for the coronavirus in the previous six months, was deemed invalid by border authorities.

Australian Open organizers have not commented publicly, except to tell Australian newspapers that no players have been misled over the vaccination requirements.

Tournament director Craig Tiley has continued working with Djokovic, hoping to get the defending champion into the tournament that starts a week from Monday.

The 34-year-old Djokovic, who shares the men’s record of 20 Grand Slam singles titles with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, is one of two players put into detention in a hotel in Melbourne that also houses refugees and asylum seekers. A third person, reported to be an official, left the country voluntarily after border force investigations.

The other player was identified on Friday by the Czech Republic embassy in Canberra as 38-year-old doubles player Renata Voráčová.

Djokovic reached out to the world for the first time in three days later Friday night, posting on social media to mark the Orthodox Christmas and thank his supporters. There’s been large-scale rallies in Belgrade and small groups of supporters have gathered daily outside his detention hotel.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic smiles during his match against Austria’s Dennis Novak in a Davis Cup group F match between Serbia and Austria in Innsbruck, Austria, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. (Photo/Michael Probst)

“Thank you to the people around the world for your continuous support,” Djokovic posted on Instagram. “I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated.”

After months of speculation he’d miss the tournament because of his stance on vaccination, Djokovic announced on Tuesday via social media that he’d received a medical exemption from the Victorian state government, backed by tennis organizers.

But he was barred from entering Australia late Wednesday when federal border authorities at the Melbourne airport rejected his exemption to Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

Foreigners are still mostly banned from travel to Australia, and those granted entry must be fully vaccinated or have a medical exemption.

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