Australia has said it is investigating the visas of other foreign tennis players, after detaining Novak Djokovic in a chaotic row over vaccine rules.
The men’s world number one remains in immigration detention in Melbourne and is facing deportation after his entry to the country was denied on Wednesday.
He has launched an urgent court challenge to be heard on Monday, a week before the Australian Open begins. Now more uncertainty surrounds the tournament schedule.
In an interview, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said there was intelligence to “indicate there are some individuals here now that have not met the entry requirements and we have to investigate that,” she told Channel 9 on Friday.
However, she did not say how many other players were under investigation or who they were. Andrews added that the tennis star was not being held captive.
“He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that,” she added.
Djokovic, who has said he is opposed to vaccination, had been granted a medical exemption to play in the tournament for unspecified reasons, a decision that infuriated many Australians.
The exemption was given by two independent medical panels organised by Tennis Australia, the body that runs the event, and Victoria state, tournament organisers said.
But on Wednesday, Australian Border Force (ABF) officials said the 34-year-old Serbian player had “failed to provide appropriate evidence” at Melbourne Airport.
The federal government has criticised Tennis Australia for ignoring ABF advice about the requirements for entry. On Friday, Victoria said Tennis Australia had also failed to pass on this advice. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also being accused of politicising the issue. The prime minister himself is under pressure amid the surge of Covid-19 infections in the country, and a federal election is likely to be held in May.
The row prompted Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to say Djokovic was a victim of “harassment” and that “the whole of Serbia” supported him. Morrison has denied the visa cancellation was because of “any particular position in relation to Serbia”.
It is not yet clear how long Djokovic will remain in an immigration detention hotel that has often been criticised by refugees for its poor conditions. Serbia has demanded Australia move him to a nicer hotel.