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Reuters
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Reuters
Entertainment

Novak Djokovic spending Orthodox Christmas Day in Australian detention

by Donna Birrell

World number one tennis player Novak Djokovic is spending Orthodox Christmas Day in an Australian immigration detention as his lawyers fight a government decision to remove him from the country.

Djokovic, who is a devout member of the Serbian Orthodox Church regularly wears a wooden cross around his neck and is known for praying through his matches. 

Border officials detained Djokovic at Melbourne's airport when he arrived on Wednesday evening and revoked the visa he had been granted on the basis of a medical exemption from Australia's strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

The initial decision to grant entry to Djokovic was met with outrage in Australia, a country with an adult vaccination rate of more than 90% that is battling its worst surge in infections since the pandemic began.

The Australian government pushed back on Friday against suggestions by Serbian supporters, including Djokovic's family, that the star player was effectively a prisoner, stressing he is free to leave the country at any time. 

"Mr. Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia, he is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that," Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told reporters.

Djokovic's lawyers successfully scrambled for urgent legal approval for him to remain in the country until a full court hearing in his case against the federal government on Monday.

The public hearing is expected to reveal more details about the exemption granted to Djokovic and the documentation he provided to immigration officials at the border to support it.

The 34-year-old has not revealed the grounds for the exemption and has consistently refused to disclose his vaccination status, while publicly criticising mandatory vaccines. 

Members of the Orthodox Church around the world are marking Christmas Day today according to the Julian Calendar. 

In 2011, Djokovic received the Order of Saint Sava – the highest honour bestowed by the Serbian Orthodox Church – for his generosity and dedication to the religion. At the time he said :

“As an athlete and a religious person, it is hard for me to find appropriate words to describe my feelings of gratitude for the confidence I gain from the Holy Synod. I can only say that it can be earned only with hard work and self-belief, belief in your loved ones and in God.”

The Russian Orthodox Church also honoured Djokovic with a 2012 award for “Outstanding Activity in Strengthening Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations and for Consolidation and Promotion of Christian Values in the Life of Society.”

As the row over Djokovic's vaccination status escalated, Australian officials said two other players who entered the country under the same exemption granted to Djokovic were under investigation. 


 

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