He lost his final bid to stay in Australia on Sunday when a three-judge panel upheld the government’s decision to cancel his visa.
More broadly, he lost to a government determined to make him a symbol of unvaccinated celebrity entitlement; to an immigration law that gives godlike authority to border enforcement; and to a public outcry, in a nation of rule followers, over what was widely seen as Djokovic’s disregard for others, after he said he had tested positive for Covid last month and met with two journalists anyway.
On Sunday morning in Australia, more than 84,000 people watched the livestream of the hearing in a federal court. What they witnessed was the saga’s bizarre final court scene: a six-panel video conference in distant rooms of blond wood, about whether the immigration minister had acted rationally in exercising his power to detain and deport.
The chief justice, James Allsop, announced the decision just before 6 pm, after explaining that the court was not ruling on the merits of Djokovic’s stance or on whether the government was correct in arguing that he might influence others to resist vaccination or defy public health orders. Rather, the court simply found that the immigration minister was within his rights to cancel the tennis star’s visa for a second time based on that possibility.
In the second round, his lawyers argued that the government had used faulty logic to insist their client’s presence would energize anti-vaccination groups, making him a threat to public health. In fact, they argued, anti-vaccine sentiment would be aggravated by his removal, citing protests that followed his first visa cancellation.
“The minister is grasping for straws,” said Nicholas Wood, one of Djokovic’s lawyers.
Wood also disputed the government’s claim that Djokovic, 34, was a well-known promoter of vaccine opposition. The only comments cited in the government’s court filing, he said, came from April 2020, when vaccines had not yet been developed.
The case, though, ultimately turned on the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, and his personal views.
Allsop pointed out in court that Australian immigration law provided a broad mandate: Evidence can simply include the “perception and common sense” of the decision-maker. Stephen Lloyd, arguing for the government, told the court it was perfectly reasonable for the immigration minister to be concerned about the influence of a “high-profile unvaccinated individual” who could have been vaccinated by now but had not done so.