'It's like prison,' says Czech player quarantined with Djokovic
SYDNEY (Reuters, AFP) - Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic began a third day in Australian immigration detention on Saturday (Jan 8), joined by Czech women’s player Renata Voracova as a blame game between Australian authorities over handling of Covid-19 vaccine exemptions gathered steam.
Voracova, placed in the same Melbourne detention centre as Djokovic after both had their Australian visas revoked, said on Friday that her stay felt like "being in prison", The Straits Times said in a report that also credited Bloomberg.
"I'm in a room and I can't go anywhere," the 38-year-old Voracova, ranked 81st in doubles, told the Czech dailies DNES and Sport. "My window is shut tight, I can't open it five centimetres."
She added: "And there are guards everywhere, even under the window, which is quite funny. Maybe they thought I would jump and run away."
Voracova entered Australia on an exemption from the country's tight pandemic regulations, just like Djokovic, but both ended up in detention after the authorities changed their minds.
The Serbian superstar, a vocal opponent of vaccine mandates who came to Australia in hopes of winning a record 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, has been holed up since Thursday in the modest Melbourne hotel.
His lawyers are preparing a legal challenge to his visa cancellation, which is scheduled to go to a federal court hearing on Monday.
Other than a short post on Instagram thanking fans for their support, Djokovic, one of the world’s wealthiest athletes, has made no public appearance or comment since entering the Park Hotel, which is also home to dozens of asylum seekers trying to enter the country.
The Australian newspaper reported that Djokovic had requested access to his chef and a tennis court while in detention but that his request was denied.
As the Australian Border Force said it had cancelled several other visas of people involved in the tournament, including Voracova’s, the federal and Victorian state governments and Tennis Australia denied responsibility for the dispute, which has been condemned by the Serbian government.
Tennis Australia reportedly advised players on ways to enter the country with a medical exemption from vaccination, but insisted it never knowingly misled players and had always urged players to be vaccinated.
“We have always been consistent in our communications to players that vaccination is the best course of action – not just as the right thing to do to protect themselves and others, but also as the best course of action to ensure they could arrive in Australia,” it said in a statement, as quoted by local media.
Djokovic, 34, has not revealed the grounds on which he had earlier been granted an exemption and has consistently refused to disclose his vaccination status.
Vaccines are not mandatory in Australia but are required for some activities.
On Friday, Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews had said in a radio interview that Djokovic "is not being held captive in Australia".
"He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that."
Voracova , who is unvaccinated against Covid-19, was originally allowed to enter on an exemption after recovering from the disease late last year.
She even managed a doubles match at a Melbourne event in the run-up to the Australian Open starting on Jan 17 before her visa was revoked and she was interrogated for several hours.
Unlike the vaccine-wary Djokovic, Voracova was planning to go back home.
"I would have to ask for another visa and wait for a week, locked up in a hotel, without training... it doesn't make sense," she said.
Voracova said she may have ended up in detention because of the attention paid to Djokovic. But she had no hard feelings toward the Serbian star.
"I would like them to let him play. We are athletes, we have come here to play tennis and not to deal with disputes behind the scenes," she said.