World number one men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic has had his visa to enter Australia revoked on his arrival in Melbourne in a huge backlash over a vaccine exemption.
Djokovic remains in immigration detention in Melbourne and is facing deportation after his entry to the country was denied on Wednesday.
The row is around an exemption he had to play in the Australian Open.
The Serbian player, who has said he is opposed to vaccination, had been granted medical exemption to play in the tournament for unspecified reasons, a decision that infuriated many Australians.
Dr Paul Davis is an expert in sport ethics at the University of Sunderland and argues we should focus less on the public outcry and Djokovic’s personal beliefs on vaccinations and more on the process that has led to this outcome.
“The question of process must be sharply disaggregated from the credentials of the current decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa,” Dr Davis said.
“The sequence of events is undeniably a disassembled mess. The Victorian government, ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immigration) and the national government in the shape of the Australian Border Force have not acted in a joined-up manner. Should this happen in Britain, many seasoned natives would trumpet it as the latest illustration of slapstick British bureaucracy.
“Djokovic seems to have a legitimate complaint about the process to which he has been subject, and a thorough review of procedures is surely required. If the current decision stands, compensation to Djokovic is also a plausible expectation.
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“However, these inconvenient truths are irrelevant to whether the current decision is correct. If, for instance, the Australian Border Force are to be the final arbiters of who is granted a medical exemption from vaccination requirements, and they conclude (guided by ATAGI’s ‘blind’ panel) that Djokovic should not be granted an exemption, then Djokovic should not be granted an exemption. While procedures need to be clear, they must naturally be applied consistently and with accuracy.”
Dr Davis added: “At the same time, dangers are present in cases such as this. Governments zealous to confirm equality before the law might be improperly motivated, courting precipitate decisions and unhelpfully populist pronouncements. Without knowing the details of Djokovic’s exemption application, it is not possible to know if this could be the case here.
“And in the case of a controversial figure such as Djokovic, the reactions of individuals, including journalists, deriving pleasure from Djokovic’s misfortunes, could distort judgement about the case at issue.”
Djokovic has launched an urgent court challenge to be heard on Monday, a week before the Australian Open begins.