Tennis: International row brewing over whether Novak Djokovic should be kicked out of Australia

An international row is brewing over whether world number one men's tennis player Novak Djokovic should be kicked out of Australia or permitted to defend his title at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

The vaccine skeptic has been threatened with deportation after what he said was a vaccine exemption was rejected at the border.

Djokovic's parents are defending the 20-time Grand Slam champion saying the Australian government is "keeping him as a prisoner."

But Aussie authorities say they're simply following the rules and not giving the professional sportsman special treatment.

Djokovic's father Srđan referred to the situation as a "political agenda" and compared his son to Jesus Christ when speaking to local media in Serbia.

"They nailed Jesus to the cross and did all sorts to him. He withstood. And he still lives among us," he said.

"In the same way, they are also trying to crucify Novak - to underestimate him, to bring him to his knees.

"We Serbs are a proud European people. Throughout history, we have never attacked anyone, we only defended ourselves. That is what Novak, our pride, our Serb, the pride of the entire free world, is now doing."

Djokovic flew into Australia on Wednesday night, apparently believing he had a medical exemption from a strict border requirement to be double vaccinated against COVID.

For reasons not yet explained, that exemption was deemed ineligible, his visa was cancelled and he was detained at The Park Hotel in Carlton.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Djokovic could not prove the medical exemption for the COVID vaccine that he claimed he had.

Tennis: International row brewing over whether Novak Djokovic should be kicked out of Australia

"I'm advised that such an exemption was not in place," Morrison said. "Djokovic's visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules."

Djokovic's lawyers are appealing the decision, but it's urgent - the Australian Open starts in just 10 days.

There was limited sympathy from rival player Rafael Nadal, who is tied with Djokovic and Roger Federer on a record 20 Grand Slam victories. 

"I think if he wanted, he would be playing here in Australia without a problem," Nadal said. "He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences.

"Of course, I don't like the situation that is happening. In some way I feel sorry for him, but at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision."

Djokovic is dubbed 'Novax' Djokovic for his theories and actions about vaccines, but he also holds other scientifically questionable views - including that people can magically alter water quality with their minds.

"Through the power of gratitude they managed to turn the most toxic food or the most polluted water into the most healing water," Djokovic said in an interview.

He came under fire in 2020 for spreading COVID at a tournament he organised, where there had been parties and a lack of distancing.

The fresh controversy has sparked protests against Australia in Serbia while in Melbourne, supporters of the tennis player gathered outside his hotel chanting and dancing along to music. 

The hotel is shared with detained asylum seekers and protesters seized the moment to highlight their plight where they chanted: "Free, free refugees! Free, free refugees!"

An asylum seeker in the same hotel demonstrated the basic room, with food probably not quite what the millionaire athlete is used to.

The asylum seeker described the food as "kind of disgusting".

Food provided to people staying at the hotel where Novak Djokovic is staying.
Food provided to people staying at the hotel where Novak Djokovic is staying. Photo credit: Newshub

But there's not much sympathy on the street. Perhaps the only thing Australians find more annoying than the idea of special rules for elites is special rules for elites during a surging pandemic.

"He's not vaccinated so he shouldn't have been allowed in," one Australian said, while another added: "The rules should be the same for everyone no matter who you are." 

Another person said: "Get vaccinated no matter what."

As for whether Djokovich gets to defend his Australian Open title - that's a fate to be determined in a court on Monday.

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