The high-profile knock-about between Novak Djokovic (pictured) and the Australian Border Force is proving more riveting (and certainly harder to call) than most tennis matches. The world’s number one ranked player was being held in custody in a Melbourne hotel until yesterday when a judge overruled the visa cancellation and ordered that he should be released immediately, while the government should cover all the costs of his detention. Advantage Djokovic? Not quite. A short time later, immigration minister Alex Hawke said that he was considering using his discretionary powers to revoke the visa again, a threat that will linger as Djokovic takes to the practice courts.
What happens next is perhaps less important than the message this Aussie volley of litigation sends to the world. The sunny image that the nation projects abroad has been damaged by the airing of its heavy-handed border policy and suspicions that it can be bent to the will of the government. “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders,” thundered prime minister Scott Morrison when Djokovic landed. But are they really if a judge’s ruling can be slapped down by a point-scoring politician? And what hope do regular travellers and genuine asylum seekers have to a fair hearing if a high-profile athlete – his papers seemingly in order – faces detention and the potential of unceremonious deportation?
Like him or loathe him, the Serbian tennis star has shown poise and stamina in this match-up (though a less-than-rigorous grasp of medical science). My call? Game, set, match, Djokovic.