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  16 Jan 2022, 11:46
Update : 16 Jan 2022, 12:21

Australian court weighs Djokovic verdict

MELBOURNE, Jan 16, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic was
Sunday awaiting the verdict on his last-gasp appeal against deportation from
Australia over his stance on vaccination, with the judges' decision expected
within hours.

  After four hours of feisty legal back-and-forth about the Serbian ace's
anti-vaccine stance and his alleged risk to public order in Australia, the
emergency online hearing adjourned.

  Djokovic is fighting to win his release from immigration detention, for his
visa to be reinstated and to be allowed to remain in the country to defend
his title at the Australian Open, which starts Monday.

  "We would hope to be in a position to identify to the parties later in the
afternoon what the course is that we propose," Chief Justice James Allsop
said.

  Djokovic's high-powered legal team painted Australia's effort to deport the
34-year-old as "irrational" and "unreasonable", but at times faced pointed
questions from the panel of three justices who will now decide the case.

  His lawyer Nick Wood sought to systematically dismantle the government's
central argument that Djokovic's anti-vaccine views are a public threat and
could cause "civil unrest" unless he is deported.

  Despite the Serbian star being unvaccinated, Wood insisted he has not
courted anti-vaxxer support and was not associated with the movement.

  The government "doesn't know what Mr Djokovic's current views are", Wood
insisted.

  Djokovic is the Australian Open's top seed. If he retains the title he
would become the first men's tennis player in history to win 21 Grand Slams.

  But he has spent much of the last week in immigration detention, with his
visa twice being revoked by the government over his refusal to get a Covid-19
vaccine before arrival -- a requirement for most visitors.

  Government lawyer Stephen Lloyd said the fact that Djokovic was not
vaccinated two years into the pandemic and had repeatedly ignored safety
measures -- including failing to isolate while Covid-19 positive -- was
evidence enough of his anti-vaccine views.

  "He has now become an icon for the anti-vaccination groups," Lloyd said.
"Rightly or wrongly he is perceived to endorse an anti-vaccination view and
his presence here is seen to contribute to that."

  In a written submission the government also pointed out that Djokovic chose
not to give evidence at the hearing.

  "He could set the record straight if it needed correcting. He has not --
that has important consequences."

  - 'We stand by you' -

  Because of the format of the court, the justices' decision will be
extremely difficult to appeal by either side.

  If the Serbian star loses, he will face immediate deportation and a three-
year ban from Australia -- dramatically lengthening his odds of winning a
championship he has bagged nine times before.

  If he wins, he may be released within 30 minutes.

  That would set the stage for an audacious title tilt and deal another
humiliating blow to Australia's embattled prime minister ahead of elections
expected in May.

  Scott Morrison's government has tried and failed to remove Djokovic once
before -- on the grounds he was unvaccinated and that a recent Covid
infection was not sufficient for a medical exemption.

  A lower circuit court judge ruled that officials at Melbourne airport made
procedural errors when cancelling his visa.

  For a few days, Djokovic was free to train before a second visa revocation
and a return to a notorious Melbourne immigration detention facility.

  Many Australians -- who have suffered prolonged lockdowns and border
restrictions -- believe Djokovic gamed the system to dodge vaccine entry
requirements.

  Experts say the case has taken on significance beyond the fate of one man
who happens to be good at tennis.

  "The case is likely to define how tourists, foreign visitors and even
Australian citizens view the nation's immigration policies and 'equality
before the law' for years to come," said Sanzhuan Guo, a law lecturer at
Flinders University.

  The case has also been seized on by culture warriors in the roiling debate
over vaccines and how to handle the pandemic.

  Australia's immigration minister Alex Hawke has admitted that Djokovic is
at "negligible" risk of infecting Australians, but argued his past
"disregard" for Covid-19 regulations may pose a risk to public health and
encourage people to ignore pandemic rules.

  The tennis ace contracted Covid-19 in mid-December and, according to his
own account, failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.

  Public records show he attended a stamp unveiling, a youth tennis event,
and granted a media interview around the time he got tested and his latest
infection was confirmed.

  - 'With or without him' -

  Djokovic is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam
titles each.

  Spanish great Nadal took a swipe at his rival on Saturday as players
complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year.

  "The Australian Open is much more important than any player," Nadal told
reporters at Melbourne Park.

  "The Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him."

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