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Novak Djokovic admits breaking Covid-19 isolation while positive and Australian travel declaration error

The world No 1 said he made a "error of judgement" by leaving Covid isolation in December to attend an interview with a French journalist; he also attributed travel declaration document mistake down to "human error" on behalf of his agent in a statement on social media

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Novak Djokovic has posted on social media to try and answer some of the questions around his actions in the last few weeks

Novak Djokovic has admitted to making an "error of judgement" by attending an interview and photoshoot with a French newspaper after testing positive for Covid-19 last month.

The Serbian world No 1 also attributed the mistake on his Australian travel declaration form to "human error" from a member of his support team.

Djokovic posted a lengthy statement on his Instagram account on Wednesday, which read: "I want to address the continuing misinformation about my activities and attendance at events in December in the lead up to my 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 testing obligations.

"I attended a basketball game in Belgrade on December 14, after which it was reported that a number of people tested positive with Covid-19.

"Despite having no COVID symptoms, I took a rapid antigen test on December 16 which was negative, and out of an abundance of caution, also took an official and approved PCR test on the same day.

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Novak Djokovic (AP)
Image: Novak Djokovic said 'human error' from his agent was the reason for a mistake on his travel declaration form

"The next day I attended a tennis event in Belgrade to present awards to children and took a rapid antigen test before going to the event, and it was negative.

"I was asymptomatic and felt good, and I had not received the notification for a positive PCR test result until after that event.

"The next day, on December 18 I was at my tennis centre in Belgrade to fulfil a long-standing commitment for a L'Equipe interview and photoshoot. I cancelled all other events except for the L'Equipe interview.

"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 except when my photograph was being taken.

"While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment."

Novak Djokovic is a nine-time champion at the Australian Open and has won the title the last three years
Image: The world No 1 is a nine-time champion at the Australian Open and has won the title the last three years

Djokovic's statement also addressed the issue pertaining to his travel declaration, published by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia earlier this week.

On the form, Djokovic said he had not travelled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia. But reports claimed the 34-year-old had also been in Spain during that two-week period.

"On the issue of my travel declaration, this was submitted by my support team on my behalf - as I told immigration officials on my arrival - and my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia," Djokovic continued.

"This was a human error and certainly not deliberate. We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur.

"Today, my team has provided additional information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter."

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Australian tennis fans have their say on the news Novak Djokovic will compete at this year's Australian Open after his visa cancellation was quashed

ITWA 'deeply concerned' by Djokovic's actions

The co-presidents of the International Tennis Writers Association, Simon Cambers and Isabelle Musy, have made a statement to CNN regarding Djokovic's in-person interview with L'Equipe.

"The news that Novak Djokovic did not tell one of our members - and the rest of the L'Equipe team on the day - that he tested positive for Covid-19 is deeply concerning," the statement said.

"As journalists, we take great care to adhere to all Covid-19 rules in place and we would expect all players to do the same. Furthermore, it should be noted that journalists have to be fully vaccinated to travel to Melbourne for this year's Australian Open."

Novak Djokovic has been practising at Melbourne Park ahead of the Australian Open
Image: Novak Djokovic has been practising at Melbourne Park ahead of the Australian Open

In a nutshell, what's happened?

Djokovic flew to Australia with a 'vaccine exemption' and arrived in Melbourne last Wednesday, but was denied entry into the country after nine hours at the airport. The Serb's visa was cancelled due to it not being one that allows for medical exemptions, after which he was moved to hotel quarantine as his team launched an appeal.

On Monday evening local time, Judge Anthony Kelly from the Federal Circuit Court of Australia quashed the visa cancellation and ordered the Australian Government to pay legal costs and release Djokovic from detention within half an hour.

Australian Open 2022 key dates

  • The draw takes place on Thursday, January 13
  • The tournament starts on Monday, January 17
  • The women's final takes place on Saturday, January 29
  • The men's final is on the last day of the competition on Sunday, January 30

Why did Australia Border Force deny him entry?

Upon landing in Melbourne, in addition to the visa error, Djokovic's 'vaccine exemption' was deemed not sufficient for border officials with regard to entry into a country that has strict requirements.

The Serb was held for more than nine hours at the airport before ultimately being denied entry, as the federal government has a higher authority than previous decisions and statements made by Tennis Australia, which had been endorsed by the state government.

An Australian Border Force (ABF) statement read: "Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled.

"Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia.

"The ABF can confirm Mr Djokovic had access to his phone."

Novak Djokovic - Sequence of events

January 4 - Djokovic announces he will be travelling to Australia with an 'exemption permission'.
January 5 - While Djokovic is airborne, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the athlete will be on the "next plane home" if he cannot provide "acceptable proof" that his exemption is legitimate.
Acting Sports Minister Jaala Pulford highlights that the local government of Victoria, where the Australian Open is held, will not support Djokovic's visa application.
The world No 1 arrives at Melbourne Airport around 11.30pm local time.
January 6 - Around 3.15am, Djokovic's father reports that his son is being held in isolation in Melbourne Airport.
At 5am, Goran Ivanisevic releases an image on social media of himself and another member of Djokovic's team seemingly waiting for the world No 1. The post is captioned, ‘Not the most usual trip Down Under’.
Around 8.15am local time, Djokovic's visa is confirmed to have been denied by the Australian Border Force.
Djokovic is moved to quarantine hotel while his legal team appeal visa cancellation.
The appeal against his visa cancellation is adjourned until Monday (Jan 10) morning Australian time.
January 7 - Australia Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews says Djokovic is "free to leave any time" and is not being detained.
Djokovic breaks silence in Instagram post on Friday, thanking his fans for their "continuous support".
January 8 - Submission from Djokovic's lawyers on Saturday reveals positive Covid-19 test in December.
January 9 - Home Affairs Minister Andrews has a submission to delay the hearing until Wednesday (Jan 12) rejected by Judge Anthony Kelly.
Submission from Australian government lawyers says Djokovic had not been given an assurance he would be allowed to enter the country with his medical exemption.
January 10 – Djokovic wins appeal. Judge Anthony Kelly quashes visa cancellation, and orders the Australian Government to pay legal costs and release Djokovic from detention.
Djokovic takes to social media to confirm that he remains intent on competing at the Australian Open.
January 12 - Djokovic posts on Instagram admitting to making an "error of judgement" by attending an interview and photoshoot with a French newspaper after testing positive for Covid-19 last month.

What were the issues with Djokovic's visa?

Having landed in Melbourne at around 11.30pm local time on Wednesday evening on a flight from Dubai, the 20-time grand slam winner reportedly attempted to enter the country on a visa that did not permit medical exemptions for being unvaccinated.

According to reports, Djokovic and his team submitted the wrong type of visa, which caused heavy delays at the airport.

When Border Force contacted government officials in Victoria to sponsor the visa, they refused to do so.

Indeed, the local government of Victoria, the state where the Australian Open is played, said it would not support Djokovic's application, with Acting Sports Minister Jaala Pulford confirming as much in a statement on social media.

WTA: Voracova followed the rules

A person believed to be Renata Voracova looks out of a window at the Park hotel immigration detention centre in Melbourne, Australia
Image: A person believed to be Renata Voracova looks out of a window at the Park hotel immigration detention centre in Melbourne, Australia

The Women's Tennis Association has released a statement defending Czech player Renata Voracova after her visa was cancelled.

Voracova, who is not vaccinated, had been granted a medical exemption to compete at the Australian Open and had already competed in doubles in Melbourne's Gippsland Trophy earlier this month.

She was subsequently detained by Border Force officials before being asked to leave the country.

"The WTA is supportive and appreciative of all the efforts put forth by Craig Tiley and Tennis Australia to host the Summer of Tennis under conditions that continue to be challenging for all," read the WTA's statement. "The WTA believes that all players should be vaccinated and is in full support of the immigration policies that have been put in place as the protection of the Australian communities in which we compete is critical.

"That being said, the complications experienced over the past few days where athletes have followed the approved and authorised process of receiving a medical exemption for entry into the country are unfortunate. Renata Voracova followed these rules and procedures, was cleared for entry upon her arrival, competed in an event and then suddenly had her visa cancelled when she had done nothing wrong.

"We will continue to work with all authorities on addressing this unfortunate situation in an appropriate manner."

Following her arrival back in Prague, Voracova said she was still in shock and admitted to bursting into tears during questioning after being detained.

"The air ticket alone cost 60,000 Czech crowns (roughly £2,050, $2,780) and my coach travelled with me," she told RTL Today. "And then there is all that time, hotels, training for the Grand Slam, the potential prize money.

"I hope Tennis Australia will face up to it and that we won't have to take legal steps.

"I'm not thinking about tennis. I'm still waking up from the shock, I haven't processed it yet. I'm exhausted. I didn't expect that in the darkest dream, it was just too much."

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