MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) –

Novak Djokovic has admitted that his Australian travel declaration form contained incorrect information, as the government prepares to take the decision to expel the Serbian tennis star, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, for reasons of public interest.

The men’s tennis No.1 saw his visa revoked upon arriving in Melbourne last week when his vaccination exemption was challenged, but he won a legal battle over procedural reasons that allowed him to stay in the country. He still faces the prospect of deportation – a decision which is entirely at the discretion of Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke if deemed to be in the public interest for health and safety reasons.

Hawke has been looking into the matter since a judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa on Monday.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said most Australians disapprove of the nine-time and reigning Australian Open champion coming to Melbourne to compete in violation of the country’s strict pandemic quarantine rules.

“Most of us thought because Mr. Djokovic hadn’t been vaxxed twice that he would be asked to leave,” Joyce told Nine Network television Thursday. “Well, that was our point of view, but it was not the court’s point of view. “

“The vast majority of Australians… did not like the idea that another individual, be it a tennis player or… the King of Spain or the Queen of England, could come here. and have a different set of rules than what everyone else faces, ”Joyce added.

Debate over Djokovic’s presence in Australia rages amid a surge in COVID-19 infections across the country.

The state of Victoria, which hosts the Australian Open, on Thursday relaxed the seven-day isolation rules for close contact of those infected in sectors such as education and transport to reduce the number of ’employees who stay out of work.

The state recorded 37,169 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24-hour period on Thursday, as well as 25 deaths and 953 hospitalizations.

Ticket sales for the tennis tournament have been limited to reduce the risk of transmission.

In a statement posted to his social media accounts on Wednesday, the tennis star blamed his support team’s “human error” for failing to say he had traveled in the two weeks prior to entering Australia.

Giving false information on the form could be grounds for deportation, the latest twist in a saga over whether the athlete should be allowed to stay in Australia even though they have not been vaccinated. The first news that Djokovic had been granted a waiver of strict vaccination rules to enter the country sparked an uproar and the ensuing dispute has since eclipsed preparations for the Australian Open.

Djokovic acknowledged the shortcomings when he sought to clarify what he called “continuing disinformation” about his movements after being infected last month – although he did not specify what inaccuracies he was referring to.

The statement came out as Djokovic was at Rod Laver Arena for a training session, his third on the tournament’s main court since his release from four nights in immigrant detention.

Djokovic remains in limbo ahead of the start of the first major tennis tournament of the year on Monday. The stakes are particularly high as he is aiming for a 21st men’s Grand Slam singles title.

The expulsion could result in penalties of up to a three-year ban on entering Australia, an intimidating prospect for a player who has won nearly half of his 20 Grand Slam singles titles here.

Court documents detailing Djokovic’s positive test have sparked speculation about the star player’s participation in events in his native Serbia last month. Other questions were also raised about errors on her immigration form that could potentially result in her visa being canceled again.

On the form, Djokovic said he had not traveled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia, although he was seen in Spain and Serbia during that time.

In his statement, Djokovic called the recent comment “hurtful” and said he wished to respond in the interest of “alleviating wider community concerns about my presence in Australia.”

The 34-year-old Serb said he had taken rapid tests which were negative and was asymptomatic before receiving his positive result from a PCR test which he undertook out of “excess of caution” after attending a basketball game in Belgrade in December. 14.

He received the result at the end of December 17, he said, and canceled all his engagements except for a long-standing interview with L’Equipe the next day.

“I felt compelled to move on… but I made sure to distance myself socially and wear a mask except when my photo was taken,” Djokovic said.

The L’Equipe reporter who interviewed the athlete wrote in the diary that he and a photographer were also masked during the shoot – and kept their distance except for a brief moment as Djokovic said goodbye to him. The reporter said he tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday and did not mention the photographer’s status.

“As I returned home after the interview to self-isolate for the required period, upon reflection it was an error in judgment,” Djokovic said.

At the time, Serbia demanded that people infected with COVID-19 self-isolate for at least 14 days. But Djokovic was seen just over a week after testing positive on the streets of Belgrade, although he said he had tested negative in the meantime.

Meanwhile, Djokovic responded to the Australian travel statement saying it had been submitted by his support team and “my agent sincerely apologizes for the administrative error by checking the wrong box”.

“It was human error and certainly not deliberate,” he wrote. “My team provided additional information to the Australian government to clarify this issue. “

The decision could take a while – but there is time pressure as the draw to determine parentheses for the Australian Open is set to take place on Thursday.

Hawke’s office released a statement on Wednesday saying that Djokovic’s legal team had filed other documents and added: “Naturally, this will affect the decision timeframe.”

The question is whether he has a valid exemption from the strict rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia since he recently recovered from COVID-19.

His exemption from competition was approved by the state government of Victoria and Tennis Australia, the organizer of the tournament. This apparently enabled him to receive a visa to travel.

But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa on arrival before a federal judge overturned the decision. Government lawyers have said infection was only grounds for exemption in cases where the coronavirus has caused serious illness – although it is not clear why he received a visa if so .

The initial decision to let him compete sparked complaints that Djokovic was receiving special treatment – and the subsequent cancellation of his visa raised allegations that he was targeted once the issue became political. The saga unfolds amid growing concern in Australia over the increase in COVID-19 cases – and the government’s strategy to contain them.

If Djokovic’s visa is canceled, his lawyers could return to court to seek an injunction that would prevent him from being forced to leave the country.

Sydney-based immigration attorney Simon Jeans said if Djokovic’s visa was canceled he would likely be held in immigration detention. Djokovic could apply for a transition visa to participate in the tournament pending the appeal. The Immigration Department would have two working days to rule on this request. If Djokovic was denied such a visa, an appeal would typically take weeks, Jeans said.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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