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Reigning Australian Open men's champion denied entry into Australia to defend title

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The reigning Australian Open men's champion was not allowed into the country to defend his title today. It seems his visa was not in order. The controversy around Novak Djokovic being allowed to play was already heated. He is famously skeptical about the coronavirus vaccine and he had received a medical exemption from being vaccinated. Joining us to talk through what is up is Tim Callanan, reporter for The Australian Broadcasting Corporation there in Melbourne. Hey there. Welcome, Tim.

TIM CALLANAN: Thank you very much. And, yes, it's really a frenetic situation, I guess you could say, regarding Novak Djokovic. We're just getting reports through now that his visa has in fact been cancelled.

KELLY: Ah.

CALLANAN: And he's now moving to take that situation to the Victorian courts in order to actually enter the country and play in the Australian Open. So that is something that's happening right now as we speak. So this situation is very fluid. And, look, we're hoping to see that situation resolved very soon.

KELLY: Where is he right now?

CALLANAN: He's actually in the Melbourne Airport in the area where passengers come through from international flights and then have their visa applications processed and then move out to, you know, pick up their luggage and enter the train (ph). So his team, his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, and other support staff had all of their visas processed. They were released. But there was a situation with Novak with his visa, and there was an issue. And he was detained while that was assessed. And it appears now that's been rejected.

KELLY: So he's actually - he's sitting there on the other side of passport control, the side he would prefer not to be on, just waiting while they sort this out, and this may go to the courts. What was supposed to happen? I mentioned he had a vaccine exemption. How did he get that? Why did he get that?

CALLANAN: Yes, well this has been a long-running saga as well because Australia has a requirement that people entering the country from overseas are fully vaccinated, unless you can get an exemption. And in order to get that, you have to prove that, you know, you've had some kind of medical episode related to a vaccination or - and this is what we believe is the situation involving Novak - you've had COVID in the last six months, which would be grounds for being granted an exemption. He went through that process, was able to show to two separate panels within Australia that he is deserving of an exemption. That was confirmed. He got on the plane, left yesterday. And a separate jurisdiction, Australian Border Force - which is the organization which basically checks people entering the country...

KELLY: Yeah.

CALLANAN: ...Has discovered an issue then with his visa to enter Australia. So yeah, it's a long-running saga.

KELLY: What a mess. Yeah - a total mess - and threatens to become not just a conflict in the tennis world, but a diplomatic row. I saw the president of Serbia - he's from Serbia - put out a statement today saying, the whole country is with you, Djokovic. We're - you know, we've got to end the harassment here - his word. Meanwhile, your prime minister - Australia's prime minister weighed in and said there should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic.

CALLANAN: Yes, and...

KELLY: Yeah, go on.

CALLANAN: The other issue is there are various jurisdictions here as well. You've got the Victorian Government, which is basically in charge of the tournament and who's able to come to the venue where the tournament is being held, and you've got the federal government, who is ultimately responsible for who can enter the country. And then you've got, you know, organizations like Border Force and situations like that. So there are various jurisdictions all kind of trying to argue amongst themselves who has final responsibility for him to enter the country.

KELLY: And where is the public on this? I assume Australians, you know, would love to see him play.

CALLANAN: You would assume that, but there's actually very little support, I guess you could say, for someone entering the country without vaccination, unless they have a valid excuse. I mean, Melbourne is one of the most locked-down cities in the world - has been for the last two years. People here are required to have vaccinations to go and get a haircut. I mean, there is a sense - a feeling that perhaps, you know, the tennis players are getting some kind of special treatment. I'm not saying that's the case because Novak obviously has proven that...

KELLY: But people would approve of that if that is true. Wow. It sounds like we're going to need to keep checking in with you. Thanks so much for the update.

CALLANAN: OK. No problem.

KELLY: Tim Callanan, reporter for ABC. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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