Serbia demands Australia move Novak Djokovic to a nicer hotel

Serbia’s foreign minister has hauled in Australia’s ambassador to the Balkan country to demand tennis star Novak Djokovic be moved to a nicer hotel while he is in immigration detention after his visa was cancelled.

The intervention comes as Acting Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan revealed Tennis Australia did not inform her government about Morrison government letters stating a prior COVID infection – the basis for Djokovic’s exemption – would not be accepted as a genuine exemption.

The Park Hotel in Melbourne’s Carlton neighbourhood, where Novak Djokovic is being held after having his visa cancelled. Credit:Chris Hopkins, Getty

The world no.1 tennis star is detained in the Park Hotel in Carlton, alongside a number of asylum seekers who have been detained there for years. He is awaiting a court hearing on Monday that will determine whether he will be able to stay in the country to defend his Australian Open title.

In a statement posted on the Serbian Foreign Affairs Ministry website, secretary Nemanja Starovic called the Australian Ambassador to Serbia Daniel Emery to attend the foreign office on January 6 to lodge a verbal protest due to the treatment of Novak Djokovic in Australia.

“We expect that the ambassador personally takes action for [him] to be moved to accommodation befitting the best sportsman in the world, not a criminal or an illegal immigrant,” Mr Starovic said in the statement.

He said Serbia did not wish to influence Australian court decisions, but expected that the Australian government, in the spirit of good diplomatic relations between the two countries, allow Djokovic to spend Orthodox Christmas in better accommodation.

Mr Starovic said there was a “strong sense in the Serbian public” that Djokovic had unwillingly become the victim of political games and that he had been baited to travel to Australia where he was later humiliated.

He said Djokovic was not a criminal, terrorist or illegal immigrant, but had been treated as such by Australian authorities, upsetting and angering his fans and the citizens of Serbia.

Further, the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had earlier sent a protest note to the Australian Embassy in Belgrade, while the Serbian embassy in Canberra sent a protest note to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, according to the Serbian MFA press release.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed on Thursday that federal health authorities told Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley on two occasions in writing that people who were not vaccinated and had contracted COVID-19 in the past six months would not be granted quarantine-free travel to Australia.

Ms Allan confirmed that Mr Tiley and Tennis Australia did not pass this advice onto the Victorian government.

“I’m advised that the Victorian government, or members of the Victorian government, hadn’t seen that correspondence,” she said. “And you’d expect that we wouldn’t necessarily see that because it was correspondence between the Commonwealth government and Tennis Australia.”

The Acting Premier said the medical exemption provided to Djokovic by an independent panel, set up by the Victorian health department, gave him permission to play in the Australian Open once he was in Victoria. However, that permit would only have come into effect once Djokovic arrived in the country.

“You can only participate in the tournament if you’ve been granted the appropriate visa, and that’s very much a matter for the Commonwealth government,” she said.

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