Tennis star Novak Djokovic had a vaccine exemption to enter Australia after a Covid infection on 16 December, his lawyers say in court documents.
Djokovic was denied entry to Australia after landing in Melbourne this week to play in the Australian Open.
The world’s top ranked tennis player is currently in an immigration detention centre ahead of a court case on Monday.
His case has caused a huge outcry in Australia and made headlines around the world.
Djokovic, 34, who has said he is opposed to vaccination, had been granted a medical exemption to play in the tournament in a decision that infuriated many ordinary Australians.
But the Serbian was dramatically denied entry on landing.
On Wednesday, Australian Border Force (ABF) officials said the player had “failed to provide appropriate evidence” at Melbourne Airport because a prior infection was not a valid reason to enter without a vaccination.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison later confirmed that this was the case under federal rules – despite an exemption provided by the Victorian state government.
In court documents released on Saturday, Djokovic’s lawyers said the player had been granted a temporary visa to enter the country and provided with a “medical exemption from Covid vaccination” by Tennis Australia because of his recent infection.
When the case comes to court on Monday, it appears that Djokovic’s lawyers will effectively say that the decision to revoke the visa was affected by a variety of “jurisdictional errors”.
They will argue that the correct procedures were not followed in revoking the document – for example questioning whether the player was properly informed of the move to cancel the visa and whether he was given the correct legal opportunity to respond.
Another key argument – the documents suggest – will be over whether border officials misconstrued the guidance around what constituted a medical reason not to be vaccinated.
There had been no prior announcement of Djokovic’s Covid infection, which was confirmed by a PCR test on 16 December.
But on 17 December, Djokovic posted images to Twitter of his maskless appearance at a ceremony in which he was honoured with his own Serbian postage stamps in recognition for his achievements.
It is unclear whether he knew he had Covid when the photos were taken.
An honor to receive my very own Serbian stamp. Thank you to my generous country for this rare gift! I’m humbled!! Excited to share we’ll partner with the Serbian National Postal Service on @novakfoundation projects for every child to have the opportunity to attend preschool 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/Ww8Zma95NU
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) December 17, 2021
Djokovic’s medical exemption certificate was given by two independent medical panels organised by Tennis Australia, the body that runs the event, and the state of Victoria.
His lawyers said he was kept in immigration clearance at Melbourne Airport for about eight hours after he arrived, and that he had little communication with them during that period.
They have also asked that Djokovic, who remains in an immigration detention hotel that has often been criticised by refugees for its poor conditions, be moved to “a more suitable place of detention” that would allow him to train ahead of the Australian Open.
Meanwhile another player, Renata Voracova from the Czech Republic, has also had her Australian visa cancelled despite proof of having Covid before Christmas, the Czech government said.
Voracova is being held at the same immigration detention hotel as Djokovic, the Park Hotel, and has described it as being “like in prison”.
“I can’t say they were mean to me,” she told Czech news website Idnes, “but I was not prepared for the way everything played out… you have to report and everything is allotted.”
Australia’s pandemic border rules ban foreigners from entering the country if they are not either double vaccinated or have a medical exemption from having the jabs.
While foreigners can fly in to Australia on a visa applied for online, they must still clear immigration customs on arrival at the airport.
The Australian Open begins on 17 January in Melbourne.