World No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic will not be able to defend his Australian Open crown this year after the Australian Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, annulled his visa on Friday afternoon.
The nine-time Australian Open champion, who has won consecutive titles at Melbourne Park since 2019, had initially been granted a medical exemption to compete in the tournament.
The 34-year-old Djokovic, winner of 20 Grand Slam titles, had earlier this week won the legal battle in his bid to remain in Australia, with a court ordering his immediate release from immigration detention. However, lawyers for the federal government had told the court that the country's immigration minister was reserving the right to exercise his personal powers to again revoke Djokovic's visa.
Hawke used his discretionary powers on Friday to cancel the visa given to Djokovic, who has not declared his COVID-19 vaccination status despite a groundswell of demand for him to take the jab in the interest of public safety and his own health.
In a statement issued on Friday, Hawke said, "Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.
"This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10 January 2022, quashing a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds. In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic.
"The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia's borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic."
Djokovic had sought medical exemption on the ground that he had tested COVID-positive recently (December 26), and so should be allowed to play in the opening Grand Slam of the year. Reports soon emerged that he had tested positive for the virus on December 18 and had given an interview to L'Equipe knowing well that he had COVID-19.
Djokovic, a strong opponent of COVID-19 vaccination, then issued a clarification on social media, saying, he wanted to address the "continuing misinformation" about his activities and attendance at events in December in the lead up to his positive PCR COVID test result.
"This is misinformation which needs to be corrected, particularly in the interest of alleviating broader concern in the community about my presence in Australia, and to address matters which are very hurtful and concerning to my family. I want to emphasise that I have tried very hard to ensure the safety of everyone and my compliance with the testing obligations.
Djokovic admitted he knew he was positive before his interview to L'Equipe on December 18 but did it because of commitment, apologising for the "error of judgement".
"I felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L'Equipe interview as I didn't want to let the journalist down but did ensure I socially distanced and wore a mask exempt when my photograph was being taken… this was an error in judgment and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment."
World No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas has said recently that Djokovic has been "playing by his own rules" and has put his Grand Slam at risk, adding that the Australian Open defending champion has made vaccinated tennis players "look like fools".
On Thursday, the Serbian was included in the draw and was scheduled to start his Australian Open campaign against world No. 78, compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic.
The Australian Open begins on January 17.