Novak Djokovic’s participation in the Australian Open went into doubt Wednesday when the local government rejected a request to sponsor his visa and exemption from COVID-19 vaccination.
Reports said he was held at the airport pending further decisions in a country that has strict policies about COVID-19 control.
Djokovic announced Tuesday on social media that he received “exemption permission” to compete in the Grand Slam tournament, which runs Jan. 17 to 30 in Melbourne. Djokovic also posted a photo from an airport.
Sources told Australia’s The Age and the Herald Sun, and Serbia’s B92 news station on Wednesday that Djokovic was kept from leaving the airport upon arrival in Melbourne.
Australia requires travelers older than 12 to provide proof of vaccination upon entry, unless they are exempt for medical reasons.
The Age and B92 reported that Djokovic was questioned because he attempted to enter the country with a visa that did not allow medical exemptions for unvaccinated people.
It remains unclear if Djokovic was allowed to leave the Melbourne airport.
“The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia,” Victorian acting sports minister Jaala Pulford tweeted Wednesday. “We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.
“We’ve always been clear on two points: Visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday that the top-ranked men’s tennis player would be sent home if he isn’t cleared to enter the country based on its vaccination requirement for travelers.
“If that evidence is insufficient, then [Djokovic] won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home,” Morrison told reporters.
“And so if medical exemptions had been provided by medical professionals and that’s been furnished to him as a proviso for him to get on that plane, well, that will have to stack up when he arrives in Australia.”
Australian Open officials said Tuesday that an independent panel of experts approved Djokovic’s exemption. Tournament participants must be vaccinated or receive a medical exemption to compete.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said earlier this week that 26 unvaccinated players applied for exemptions, and a “handful” were approved.
Djokovic won the last three singles titles at the Australian Open. His 20 Grand Slam singles titles are tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the most in men’s tennis history.