Djokovic clarifies movements before arriving in Australia: NPR

Djokovic clarifies movements before arriving in Australia: NPR

Defending men’s champion Serbia’s Novak Djokovic trains at Rod Laver Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, on Wednesday 12 January 2022.

Mark Baker / AP

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Mark Baker / AP

Defending men’s champion Serbia’s Novak Djokovic trains at Rod Laver Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, on Wednesday 12 January 2022.

Mark Baker / AP

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Novak Djokovic knew he had tested positive for COVID-19 when he attended a newspaper interview and photo shoot at his tennis center in Serbia last month, saying on Wednesday that he had made a “rating error” and should have immediately gone into isolation.

Djokovic moved to clarify “ongoing misinformation” about his movements while he was contagious last month and about errors in the travel document he used to travel into Australia, where his visa was revoked and then reinstated in a COVID-19- vaccination saga that has overshadowed the days leading up to the Australian Open.

A statement was released on Djokovic’s social media accounts while the men’s No. 1 tennis player was at Rod Laver Arena, holding a training session against Tristan Schoolkate, a 20-year-old Australian.

The nine-time and defending Australian Open champion is in limbo before the first tennis major of the year starts next Monday, a week after he won a legal battle that allowed him to stay in the country.

But he still faces the prospect of deportation because he has not been vaccinated against COVID-19, a decision entirely at the discretion of Australia’s immigration minister if it is considered to be in the public interest.

Reports surfaced that Djokovic was attending events in his home country of Serbia last month after testing positive on December 16, including the awarding of prizes to children on December 17. There have also been speculations that errors on his immigration form could potentially result in the cancellation of his visa.

On the form, Djokovic said he had not traveled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia. The Monte Carlo-based athlete was spotted in Spain and Serbia during the two-week period.

Djokovic on Wednesday described the speculation as “harmful” and said he wanted to address it in the interest of “alleviating wider public concern about my presence in Australia.”

Djokovic said he had taken rapid tests that were negative and he was asymptomatic in the days before receiving his positive result from an approved PRC test, which he made of an “abundance of caution” after participating in a basketball game on December 14 “where it was reported that a number of people were tested positive.”

He received the result last on December 17 and said he scrapped all his commitments except the lengthy interview with L’Equipe.

“I felt obligated to move on … but made sure I took social distance and wore a mask, except when my picture was taken,” Djokovic said in the statement. “While I went home after the interview to isolate myself for the required period, this was on reflection a misjudgment and I accept that I should have rescheduled the commitment.”

He addressed the travel statement by saying that it was submitted on his behalf by his support team and that “my agent sincerely apologizes for the administrative error by ticking the wrong box.”

“This was a human error and certainly not deliberate,” he wrote. “The team has provided further information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter.”

It’s about whether he has a valid exemption from rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia since he recently recovered from COVID-19.

The decision may take a while. Immigration Secretary Alex Hawke’s office issued a statement saying Djokovic’s legal team had filed additional documents against the potential cancellation of his visa, adding: “This will obviously affect the time frame for a decision.”

Meanwhile, there is growing concern in the community where COVID-19 cases are rising.

The state of Victoria, whose capital Melbourne is hosting the Australian Open from next week, reported 21 deaths on Wednesday along with 40,127 new cases.

Deputy Prime Minister James Merlino said the state’s health care system is strained, with about 6,600 workers free after testing positive or coming into close contact with a positive case, and new pandemic killers coming into force to make booster shots mandatory for critical workers.

Hobart, Australia-based immigration lawyer Greg Barnes told The Associated Press that if Hawke intervenes, he can choose to simply cancel Djokovic’s visa or let the tennis star know he intends to cancel it.

Barnes said Hawke has “a personal power,” meaning he does not have to give natural justice if he decides it is in the public interest to cancel the visa.

If Djokovic’s visa is revoked, his lawyers could go back to court to request a ban that would prevent him from being forced to leave the country.

Hawke “can walk the natural path of justice (but) he does not have to adhere to natural justice so he can just annul it,” Barnes said. “Then you have to go to court to try to get it set aside, and that’s very difficult.”

If the government issues a letter of intent, Barnes said it could give Djokovic five to nine days to respond, depending on when he receives it.

“It could be a way to give Djokovic a chance in the tournament and then kick him out at the end of it,” Barnes said. “In my experience, it’s relatively rare for them to change their minds.”

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