If not from the freshly plastered graffiti on its walls informing passersby of the dozens of refugees being held inside, the Park Hotel looks like it could be any normal building in Melbourne. It exists in a particularly pleasant part of the world, just north of Melbourne’s CBD, right in the shadow of the city’s university and surrounded by a parade of attractive Asian restaurants. The building, meanwhile, is colored in nondescript shades of cream and gray. In regular times, people rarely look twice.
Since Novak Djokovic arrived in Melbourne and was immediately ordered by the Australian Border Force to leave the country before being transferred to the detention hotel while his lawyers appealed his visa cancellation, the Park Hotel has been at the epicenter of one of the most absurd sports stories in recent memory. When Djokovic’s fans gathered, so did those campaigning for the freedom of the refugees, some of whom have been there for years.
On Monday, one way or another, those views will cease to exist. Djokovic’s legal battle against his deportation from Australia began on Thursday when his lawyers obtained an interim court order for him to remain in the country until after his hearing, to which the government did not object. That hearing begins Monday at 10 am.
Despite the spectacle, the facts are simple. Upon Djokovic’s arrival in Melbourne on Wednesday night, the Australian Border Force found that he was unable to demonstrate that he met Australia’s entry requirements, which require arriving people to be vaccinated. As an unvaccinated traveler, Djokovic had been granted a medical exemption through a process led by Tennis Australia and the state of Victoria to compete in the Australian Open, but the federal government, and no other entity, controls the borders of the country.
Therefore, Djokovic’s legal team will have to prove that the border force’s decision to cancel his visa and proceed to deport him was illegal. On Saturday, court documents revealed that Djokovic sought his medical exemption after, according to his lawyers, he became infected with Covid-19 on December 16. His attorneys also cite his travel and exemption statement as an indication that he had the right to enter Victoria.
Of the possible outcomes, Djokovic could win the case, allowing him to leave the hotel and compete, or he could lose it and be forced to leave the country. The case could go ahead, with his presence and freedom in Melbourne at the discretion of the judge.
The audience is meant to be a show in itself – it will take place in Microsoft Teams and will be open to the public. The federal court’s website has posted the link to Monday’s hearing, along with the warning in bold: “It is imperative that you keep the camera and audio turned off, as this may affect the progress of the hearing.”
In the wake of so much public excitement, outrage, and attention, that may be the primary goal for some.
From a sporting perspective, the stakes are clear. Djokovic already lost a major championship recently when he was ejected from the 2020 US Open fourth round after accidentally hitting a line with a ball. You don’t need to do it again.
Despite the fact that Djokovic remains the dominant player in men’s tennis, having been one match away from winning the Grand Slam last year and will have other chances, all major tournaments count when you are 34 years old. He had come to Melbourne in search of a record 21 major singles titles.
If you lose the case, there are more concerns. If the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa is upheld, he could be barred from re-entry to the country for three years. It remains to be seen if he would even want to return to Australia after how things have turned out.
His cause has found support in unusual corners. “It’s too much right now,” Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios said on Saturday. “Honestly, I hope everything is fixed as soon as possible. For sports we need it here, it’s that simple. He is probably one of the most influential athletes of all time. “
On Saturday morning, after some noisy days and nights, the surroundings of the hotel were much quieter. A pair of Djokovic’s Serbian fans, father and son, quietly scanned the building across the street. Meanwhile, a dozen stubborn human rights protesters continued to brandish their placards demanding the immediate release of the refugees. Police officers and female police officers stood guard, while photographers congregated around windows, their cameras shooting every time a curtain was moved.
Every now and then some members of the public passed by and stopped to watch. Karen and Patrick were heading to the Brunswick neighborhood, minding their business on a route they had taken countless times in their lives, when they stumbled upon the scene. “We passed this building so many times not knowing they had been there for months,” Karen said.
When Djokovic leaves, so will the cameras that had only briefly focused on the plight of the refugees.
One activist, Asher, stood on the south side of the building with a bright pink sign that read, “Aussie Open? More like the Australian endlessly abusing the refugees ”, a real tennis racket taped to each corner of the sign.
His frustration was clear: “I’m a little bummed that it was necessary to put Djokovic here to get the attention of these men,” Asher said. “Djokovic will be here for a few days and he is not in the same situation at all. The media should be concerned about these men, regardless of Djokovic. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism