Mark Baker / AP
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Novak Djokovic knew he had tested positive for COVID-19 when he attended a newspaper interview and photoshoot at his tennis center in Serbia last month, claiming on Wednesday that he had made an “error in judgment” and should have gone into solitary immediately.
Djokovic decided to clarify the “continuing disinformation” about his movements as he was contagious last month and the errors on the travel document he used to enter Australia, where his visa was revoked and then reinstated in a COVID-19 vaccination saga that eclipsed the days before the Australian Open.
A statement was posted on Djokovic’s social media accounts while the No.1 men’s tennis player was at Rod Laver Arena for a training session against 20-year-old Australian Tristan Schoolkate.
The nine-time defending Australian Open champion is in limbo ahead of the start of the year’s first major tennis tournament next Monday, a week after winning a legal battle to allow him to stay in the country.
But he still faces the prospect of deportation as he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, a decision entirely at the discretion of Australia’s Immigration Minister if deemed to be in the public interest.
Reports have revealed that Djokovic attended events in his native Serbia last month after testing positive on December 16, including the presentation of awards to children on December 17. There has also been speculation that errors on her immigration form could potentially result in her visa being canceled.
On the form, Djokovic said he had not traveled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia. The Monte-Carlo-based athlete was seen in Spain and Serbia during that two-week period.
Djokovic on Wednesday called the speculation “damaging” and said he wanted to address it in the interest of “alleviating wider community concerns about my presence in Australia.”
Djokovic said he had taken rapid tests which were negative and was asymptomatic in the days leading up to his positive result on an approved PRC test which he undertook out of “excess of caution” after attending a basketball game on December 14 “where a number of people were reported to have tested positive.”
He received the result at the end of December 17 and said he had canceled all of his engagements except for the long-standing interview with L’Equipe.
“I felt compelled to move on… but I made sure to distance myself socially and wear a mask except when my photo was taken,” Djokovic said in the statement. “As I returned home after the interview to self-isolate for the required period, upon reflection this was an error in judgment and I accept that I should have postponed the engagement.”
He responded to the travel declaration saying that it had been submitted on his behalf by his support team and that “my agent sincerely apologizes for the administrative error by checking the wrong box”.
“It was human error and certainly not deliberate,” he wrote. “The team has provided additional information to the Australian government to clarify this issue.”
The question is whether he has a valid exemption from the rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia since he recently recovered from COVID-19.
The decision could take a long time. The office of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke released a statement saying that Djokovic’s legal team had filed further documents against the potential cancellation of his visa and added: “Naturally, this will affect the decision timeframe. “
Meanwhile, the community is increasingly concerned about the increase in COVID-19 cases.
The state of Victoria, whose capital Melbourne is hosting the Australian Open from next week, on Wednesday reported 21 deaths as well as 40,127 new cases.
Deputy Prime Minister James Merlino said the state’s healthcare system was strained, with around 6,600 workers on leave after testing positive or coming in close contact with a positive case, and new orders in the event pandemic regulations come into effect to make booster injections mandatory for critical workers.
Hobart-based Australia-based immigration attorney Greg Barnes told The Associated Press that if Hawke takes action, he could simply choose to cancel Djokovic’s visa or notify the tennis star of his intention to cancel it.
Barnes said Hawke had “personal power,” meaning he doesn’t have to grant natural justice if he decides it’s in the public interest to cancel the visa.
If Djokovic’s visa is canceled, his lawyers could return to court to seek an injunction that would prevent him from being forced to leave the country.
Hawke “can go the natural justice route (but) he doesn’t have to follow natural justice, so he can just override it,” Barnes said. “Then you have to go to court to try to get that overturned and it’s very difficult.”
If the government issues a notice of intent, Barnes said he 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 kick him out at the end,” Barnes said. “In my experience, it’s relatively rare that they change their mind.”