Tennis-Serbian PM vows to help national hero Djokovic in Australia visa fight

Written by on January 8, 2022

January 8, 2022

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic threw the weight of her government behind national idol Novak Djokovic on Saturday, vowing that it stood ready to provide all necessary guarantees to allow the tennis champion to enter Australia.

Djokovic, a vocal opponent of vaccine mandates, has been holed up in a Melbourne hotel since Thursday after his visa was cancelled due to problems with the medical exemption from vaccination granted by the organisers of the Australian Open.

“He’s staying in Park Hotel until the final decision is made,” Brnabic told Serbian media. “We’ve managed to make sure gluten-free food is delivered to him, as well as exercising tools, a laptop and a SIM card so that he is able to be in contact with his family.”

Djokovic, who is seeking to win a record 21st Grand Slam title at the tournament this month, said in a legal challenge on Saturday that he had been given the medical exemption because he had contracted COVID-19 last month.

A court hearing will be held on Monday over the visa cancellation. The drama has already become a diplomatic issue, with Serbia accusing Australia of treating Djokovic, 34, like a prisoner. It has also become a flashpoint for opponents of vaccine mandates around the world.

Brnabic said she had also spoken with Australian government officials and that the talks had been constructive.

“It’s a positive tone from the Australian side. The Serbian government is ready to provide all the guarantees necessary for Novak to be allowed to enter Australia, the Serbian president (Aleksandar Vucic) is also involved,” she added.

Serbian Parliament speaker Ivica Dacic also threw his support behind the tennis world number one.

“Novak is already a winner, it’s obvious that they won’t let him play so that he is unable to become the best tennis player in history,” he told RTS state TV.

“I hope this (Australian) Prime Minister (Scott Morrison) at some point gets into a situation of being treated the way he is treating others now.”

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo and Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade, Writing by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Pravin Char)

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