Novak Djokovic breaks silence on Australia detention row as other tennis players told to leave

ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott breaks down the latest on Novak Djokovic's Australian confinement

Novak Djokovic has thanked supporters in his first public message since being detained by the Australian authorities.

The tennis star's message comes as two others connected to the Australian Open tournament were instructed to leave the country by the country's border force.

Djokovic has been detained since Thursday morning at an immigration facility in Melbourne after his visa was cancelled following scrutiny of the medical exemption he had secured to enter the country.

On Friday afternoon, Djokovic posted on Instagram: "Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated."

He has appealed against the decision and must wait for a hearing on Monday to discover his fate. However, the furore focused attention on other exemptions granted to players unvaccinated against Covid who cited a recent infection to gain access to Australia.

An Australian Border Force spokesperson said: “The Australian Border Force (ABF) can confirm that its investigation into the visa status of two other individuals connected to the Australian Open has concluded. “The ABF can confirm that one individual has voluntarily departed Australia following ABF inquiries. “We can also confirm that the visa of a third individual has been cancelled. This person has been taken into immigration detention pending their removal from Australia."

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One of the individuals is Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova, who played in a warm-up tournament in Melbourne this week but has now opted to leave Australia. A spokeswoman from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the country’s Sport newspaper: “Renata Voracova decided to give up further participation in the tournament due to the limited possibility of training and to leave Australia. Our embassies in Australia are assisting her in completing the formalities for leaving the country.” The spokeswoman also said a protest note had been filed with the Australian authorities and an explanation of the situation sought. Friday was Christmas in Serbia but Djokovic faces spending the weekend in Melbourne’s Park Hotel, which is used to house asylum seekers and refugees, before Monday’s hearing.

His wife Jelena also took to social media to express her gratitude to the player’s fans for their backing.

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who has been a fierce critic of Djokovic on many matters, weighed in on Twitter to call for his country to “do better” in its treatment of the nine-time Australian Open champion. The world number 93 wrote: “Look I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mums health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad. “Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.” Hours earlier, Djokovic’s father claimed the world number one has been made a scapegoat and “crucified” in the row.

Djokovic's father Srdjan speaks during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, on Thursday. Credit: AP

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews confirmed all other players with exemptions would be looked at closely. “As people come into Australia, they need to have met our entry requirements as well as having a visa,” she told Channel 9 news. “They stand the risk if they come in and don’t have the proper documentation, that they will be stopped at the border and will go through exactly the same process which is being played out now. “He (Djokovic) hasn’t met the entry requirements – there is a lot of chatter about the visa, but that in my understanding is not the issue, it is the entry requirements… that he was not able to produce the evidence which was needed for entry into Australia.”

Supporters of Serbia's Novak Djokovic gather to protest his deportation from Australia. Credit: AP

Australian Open organisers have been notably quiet since Djokovic’s detention and much of the focus now is on how there could have been such an apparent discrepancy between what players were told regarding exemptions and the stance of the border force. It has caused a major diplomatic incident between Australia and Serbia, with Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic claiming Djokovic was the victim of “political persecution” by the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and others in the country’s government, calling on them to move him from the “horrific hotel” where he is being detained into a private rented house.