‘It’s not human’: Novak Djokovic being treated ‘like a prisoner’ amid visa row, mother claims

Djokovic is currently being held at a state-run quarantine hotel in Melbourne after appealing the border force’s decision to cancel his visa ahead of the Australian Open

Tom Kershaw
Thursday 06 January 2022 20:34
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Novak Djokovic being kept in Australia as a ‘prisoner’ says his mother
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Novak Djokovic’s mother said he was being held “like a prisoner” at a “dirty” state-run quarantine hotel in Melbourne as the saga over the world No 1’s botched entry into Australia continued to unfold.

After spending around 10 hours at Tullamarine airport on Wednesday, Djokovic was eventually transferred to the Park Hotel in Carlton where is now expected to stay until his appeal against the cancellation of his visa is heard at the start of next week.

The nine-times Australian Open champion had flown to Melbourne after seemingly being granted a “medical exemption” by Tennis Australia and the Victorian government, despite choosing not to disclose his vaccination status, only for a fierce wave of backlash to prompt political intervention while Djokovic was still in the air.

After Djokovic’s attempts to change to his own accommodation were rejected by authorities, members of his family held a press conference in Belgrade on Thursday deploring the conditions of the Park Hotel – which has previously been subject to complaints of maggots and mould within the food served.

“I spoke with him a couple of hours ago, he was good, we didn’t speak a lot but we spoke for a few minutes. He was trying to sleep, but he couldn’t,” Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, said.

“As a mother, what can I say, you can just imagine how I feel, I feel terrible since yesterday, the last 24 hours. They are keeping him like a prisoner, it’s just not fair, it’s not human. I hope he will stay strong as we are also trying, to give him some energy to keep going. I hope he will win.’

“His accommodation [is] terrible. It’s just some small, immigration hotel, if it is a hotel at all. With bugs, it’s all dirty, the food is terrible. They don’t want to give him a chance to move to a better hotel or a rented house.”

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison had initially said Djokovic’s entry was a matter for the Victorian state but changed tack to a hardline stance on Wednesday after a huge public outcry in Australia, leading Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, to claim the world No 1 had become a victim of “political persecution”.

Djokovic’s outspoken father, Srdjan, also compared the Park Hotel to a prison, and suggested the Australian government were intent on “humiliating” the 20-times grand slam champion.

“They took all of his stuff, even his wallet, they left him with just his phone and no change of clothes, nowhere to wash his face,” he claimed. “Our pride is a prisoner of these idiots, shame on them, the whole free world together with Serbia should rise. This isn’t a battle for Serbia and Novak, it’s a battle for billions of people, for freedom of expression, for free speech, freedom of behaviour.”

Despite that, more telling has been the lack of widespread defence from his peers, with Rafael Nadal pointedly offering little sympathy when asked about his rival’s situation.

“I have been vaccinated twice. If you do this, you don’t have any problem to play here,” he said. “The only clear thing is if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open and everywhere, and the world in my opinion has been suffering enough to not follow the rules.

“There are rules, and if you don’t want to get the vaccine, then you can have some troubles. I think if he wanted, he would be playing here in Australia without a problem. He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences.”

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