Opinion: What The Novak Djokovic Saga Reveals

Opinion: What The Novak Djokovic Saga Reveals

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Stephanie Myles is the Montreal-based publisher of the tennis news site Open Court who has reported from the Australian Open since 2008. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)This was not part of Novak Djokovic’s plan. The tennis star who posed with a big grin Tuesday, planes on the tarmac behind him, announcing that he’d been granted a medical exemption to play at the Australian Open and was about to fly Down Under, was instead about to embark on a saga of epic proportions.

Had things gone according to Djokovic’s plans, he would have arrived in Australia Wednesday night and be out on Rod Laver Arena in the Melbourne summer sun by Friday at the latest, working out the kinks from the flight and preparing for the Australian Open.

Instead, Djokovic spent Wednesday night at Tullamarine Airport. And he’ll spend at least the next four days at Melbourne’s Park Hotel, after apparently traveling to Australia on a visa that does not permit medical exemptions for the unvaccinated, according to comments Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made to CNN.

Djokovic, 34, has not publicly revealed his vaccination status and has repeatedly cited privacy issues when asked. On Thursday, Morrison said in a news conference that Djokovic “didn’t have a valid medical exemption” to the vaccination requirement for arrivals.

The multimillionaire tennis star is now a man in limbo, currently staying in a hotel used as an immigration detention center, and which has since become a magnet for protesters of all stripes — from Djokovic supporters to refugee advocates. Djokovic fans even got a wave and a “heart” sign from their hero, from behind the hotel-room window.

But according to accounts from some asylum-seekers who have stayed there, the Park Hotel is a place of tiny rooms without fresh air and the location of a coronavirus outbreak in October. It’s where some occupants have waited years for a resolution to their cases.

So there’s an irony in the fact that the hotel’s newest guest had his appeal of the canceled visa and deportation order fast-tracked to be heard in hours.

Djokovic moved in on Thursday, and he’ll remain there at least four days after the hearing concerning his appeal of the cancellation of his travel visa was adjourned to Monday.

However you might feel about the polarizing Djokovic, there’s not a scenario where he ever deserved this. It’s unlikely the world’s No. 1 tennis player would have got on the long commercial flight to Melbourne had he not been given a green light from tournament officials.

But somewhere along the way, the information pipeline involving Australian Open officials, the Victorian state government and federal authorities has become a game of broken telephone.

Prime Minister Morrison insisted the buck stopped with authorities at the border, not tennis organizers. “Tennis Australia said that he could play and that’s fine, that’s their call, but we make the call at the border,” he said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley, along with acting state sports minister Jaala Pulford, urged Djokovic to be forthcoming about why he was granted the exemption. It would have got them off the hook a little. They swore he wasn’t getting special treatment, but di

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