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The federal government has flagged the possibility of stepping in to potentially deny tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic a visa, preventing him from competing in the Australian Open.
The Serbian superstar left many Australians outraged late on Tuesday evening when he announced via social media that he had been granted a medical exemption to compete in the season opening grand slam.
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Djokovic's attendance had been yet to be confirmed for months prior, with Australian Open organisers and the Victorian state government making it mandatory for players to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before they would be allowed to compete.
According to the exemption process Djokovic, who will be competing for a record 21st men's singles title at Melbourne Park, was able to obtain the exemption after providing evidence to twin medical approval bodies from Tennis Australia and the Victorian government.
The guidelines for the exemption criteria were provided by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), the federal body advising on vaccination matters.
However in a rather pointed statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews said the government could still potentially step in.
"Any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our strict border requirements,” Ms Andrews said.
“While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border.
“Since 15 December 2021 fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption, and enter eligible states and territories quarantine free.
Big serve from the Home Affairs Minister on Djokovic's exemption.
"It is the Commonwealth Government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border...
No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment." #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/9UuNWvIm1Y
— Angus Ledwidge (@angusleddo) January 5, 2022
“If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travellers.
“Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our strict border requirements.
“No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment.
“Quarantine requirements for international arrivals in Victoria, including for non-vaccinated individuals, are a matter for the Victorian government.”
Victorian acting Premier Jacinta Allan had earlier suggested that Djokovic had already been approved to enter Australia.
Novak Djokovic urged to explain Australian Open exemption
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley is urging nine-time champion Novak Djokovic to reveal the reasons for his medical exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination amid public outrage over the decision.
Djokovic was scheduled to arrive in Melbourne on Wednesday to defend his title and chase a record-setting 21st grand slam title after being one of only a "handful" of exemptions granted among 26 applications from players and their support staff.
The world No.1 will avoid 14 days quarantine upon arrival with visitors to Australia who have medical exemptions treated the same as vaccinated arrivals, so will be ready to play on day one on January 17.
Tiley insists the Serbian superstar didn't receive any special treatment and says Djokovic was anonymously assessed by two separate independent panels of medical experts.
"If I want to come as an international visitor and I'm not vaccinated, and I meet those guidelines ... then I'm able to come in as an unvaccinated individual, so it's not just Novak," Tiley said on Wednesday.
"He went through that process and it's completely legitimate application and process."
But Tiley empathised with the anger felt by the public given the vaccine mandates within Australia and multiple lockdowns in Victoria.
Tiley said it would be "helpful" if the 34-year-old Djokovic did ultimately explain the grounds for his exemption.
"It will certainly be helpful if Novak was to explain the conditions in which he sought and was granted an exemption," the tournament director said.
"We would love ... Novak to talk about it and help us with it but ultimately it's going to be up to him.
"We aren't in a position, even legally, to disclose other people's medical information.
"I would encourage him to talk to the community about it ... we have been through a very tough period over the last two years and would appreciate some answers to that."
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