A second tennis player has had their visa cancelled and told by the Australian Border Force to leave the country as Novak Djokovic released a public statement for the first time since his detention, thanking fans for their support.
The Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova, due to play in the Australian Open this month, had entered Melbourne with the same medical exemption for which Djokovic was denied access, having signified that she had recently recovered from Covid-19. After successfully entering Melbourne’s borders with her medical exemption, Voracova actually played in the Melbourne Summer Set event, losing in the first round alongside partner Kateryzna Piter.
“We can confirm that Czech tennis player Renata Voracova is in the same detention as Djokovic, together with several other players,” the Czech foreign ministry said in a statement. There was no confirmation of any other players being held in detention.
With supporters, and detractors, remaining outside the Park Hotel where Voracova joined him, Djokovic released a public statement for the first time since his arrival in Melbourne on Friday night. “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated,” he said in a post on his Instagram stories posted in both Serbian and English.
Voracova’s detention comes amid the fallout from the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa and his removal to an immigration hotel on Thursday pending an appeal hearing after the weekend. As the reason he was denied entry became the backdrop for an opportunistic political furore, the Border Force began tracking down two other Australian Open participants who had used the same medical exemption to enter Melbourne.
Voracova was also transported to the Park Hotel in downtown Melbourne, the same notorious immigration detention facility where Djokovic is currently being held along with some refugees who have been sequestered in their rooms for years. An official, the only other person to enter with the same medical exemption, has also left the country.
While Djokovic opted to appeal his detention, Voracova decided not to contest the cancellation of her visa and she will leave Australia. Voracova (38) a former top 100 singles player and now ranked 81st in doubles, has earned just $18 million (€15.8 million) in her 22-year career and possesses far fewer resources than Djokovic.
“We submitted through our embassy in Canberra a protest note and are asking for an explanation of the situation. However, Renata Voracova decided to drop out of the tournament due to limited possibilities for training and to leave Australia,” the ministry statement added.
As news of Voracova’s cancelled visa spread, Nicole Melichar-Martinez, the number 12 doubles player, criticised the move in a tweet. “This is wrong on so many levels,” she wrote on Twitter. “She’s already competed. She is Covid recovered so probably the least dangerous person to be around. This isn’t about health anymore, it’s political.”
Meanwhile, leaked documents on Friday left Tennis Australia with further questions to answer following Djokovic’s detention. In the email sent to the tennis governing bodies, Tennis Australia told players that a recent positive Covid-19 test would be one of the possible reasons for a medical exemption.
The emails to the players were sent a week after Greg Hunt, the federal health minister, had emailed Craig Tiley, the chief executive of Tennis Australia, on November 29th informing him that people who are not fully vaccinated would not be approved for quarantine-free entry into Australia and that people who contracted Covid-19 within the previous six months would not be considered fully vaccinated.
The Victorian government has said that they have not seen the discussion between Tennis Australia and the federal government. “I’m advised that members of the Victorian government hadn’t seen that correspondence,” the state’s acting premier, Jacinta Allan, said.
“We wouldn’t necessarily see it . . . but it reinforces that point that it is the commonwealth government . . . that’s responsible for issuing visas and how they engage in that dialogue with Tennis Australia is a matter for them.”
Karen Andrews, the home affairs minister, contested the notion that Djokovic is being held captive in Australia,” Andrews told ABC. “He is free to leave [the country] at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that.”
Djokovic’s visa was cancelled after he arrived at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport on Wednesday. Djokovic is expected to remain at the Park Hotel until at least Monday, the date of a hearing as he attempts to overturn the Australian government’s cancellation of his visa.
Despite the escalation of Djokovic’s case, Tennis Australia and Tiley still haven’t spoken publicly since Djokovic was detained at the airport following the cancellation of his visa.
Earlier in the day, Djokovic found support from peers in both surprising and unsurprising places. Nick Kyrgios, who has made numerous critical comments about Djokovic in the past, implored people to “do better” when discussing Djokovic’s situation. “Look, I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mum’s 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,” wrote Kyrgios on Twitter.
John Isner also offered Djokovic support on Twitter in turn. Isner, a member of the player association co-founded by the Serb, the Professional Tennis Players’ Association, bemoaned the treatment Djokovic is receiving. “What Novak is going through right now is not right. There’s no justification for the treatment he’s receiving. He followed the rules, was allowed to enter Australia, and now he’s being detained against his own will. This is such a shame.”