Australia detains another tennis player

Australia detains another tennis player

Czech doubles specialist sent to same detention centre as vaccine critic Novak Djokovic

Supporters of Novak Djokovic gather to pray outside a detention centre where the Serbian tennis star is staying in Melbourne on Friday, pending an appeal of his deportation. (AFP Photo)
Supporters of Novak Djokovic gather to pray outside a detention centre where the Serbian tennis star is staying in Melbourne on Friday, pending an appeal of his deportation. (AFP Photo)

MELBOURNE: Czech tennis player Renata Voracova has ended up in the same detention facility as Novak Djokovic in the run-up to the Australian Open, the Czech foreign ministry said on Friday.

“Renata Voracova is in the same detention (facility) as Djokovic, together with several other tennis players, in Melbourne,” the ministry told AFP in an email.

The ministry said it was protesting against the detention but Voracova, the world number 81, had agreed to leave Australia and not take part in the Open “as her training options are limited”.

Djokovic entered Australia this week on an exemption from its strict pandemic restrictions. The 20-time grand slam winner has been outspoken against Covid-19 vaccination, and he has refused to make his vaccination status public.

But the world number one was put in an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne and had his visa revoked pending a court ruling on his further stay, expected on Monday.

Djokovic on Friday thanked people around the world for their support amid his visa row over Covid-19 vaccines.

“Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated,” the Serbian wrote on Instagram.

Djokovic was granted a medical exemption following a review by two independent panels advising the Australian Open. The identities of those seeking exemptions are not disclosed to panel members. But he was denied entry when his flight from Serbia landed in Melbourne late on Wednesday.

The 34-year-old is currently housed in a government detention hotel in the suburb of Carlton, 5 kilometres north of Melbourne Park.

The player’s lawyers launched an appeal seeking to overturn the federal government decision, with a court agreeing not to deport him before a full hearing scheduled for Monday.

Djokovic, 34, is seeking a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, which starts on Jan 17.

The 38-year-old Voracova, a doubles specialist, also entered on an exemption as she had recently recovered from Covid, the Czech daily newspaper Sport reported.

Voracova already played at the Melbourne WTA event alongside Katarzyna Piter of Poland this week, but they crashed out in the first round.

Sport said she had had her exemption “reassessed” by Australia since then.

The ministry said the Czech consulate in Sydney was dealing with the situation.

“As far as we know, she proved being safe in a way that would entitle her to play,” the ministry said.

AFP video images on Friday evening showed a woman who appeared to be Voracova peering out of the window of the former Park Hotel, which now holds 32 refugees and asylum seekers.

She was reportedly told she would have to leave the country soon. But it was not known if she would mount a legal challenge, as Djokovic has done, reports said.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said earlier on Friday that two other people in addition to Djokovic — reportedly one player and one staff member — were also under investigation for visa issues.

On Friday evening, the Australian Border Force confirmed in a statement that the visa of a person connected to the Australian Open had been cancelled, without providing a name.

“This person has been taken into immigration detention pending their removal from Australia,” it said.

Another person, also not identified, had “voluntarily departed Australia” following Border Force inquiries, it said.

The Australian government said on Friday that a recent infection with the Covid-19 virus does not mean a foreign national can enter the country without being fully vaccinated.

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