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On Saturday, Djokovic will battle the cancellation of his Australian visa

On Saturday, Djokovic will battle the cancellation of his Australian visa

MELBOURNE, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The tennis player was set to take his career to a federal court on Saturday, after the government renewed his visa to avoid COVID-19 entry restrictions and ordered him to leave the country.

The government had promised to deport him until the case was over, although the world's most distinguished men's player was to pre-deportation detention on Saturday (2100 GMT on Friday).

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had discretionary powers to revoke the visa, putting the Serbian in the process of being able to defend his Australian Open title on Monday.

Djokovic's deportation would be a threat to public health, according to the lawyers, as opposed to his stay in Australia and exempting him from the requirement that all visitors be vaccinated.

A health ministry official defended Djokovic against media reports of anomalies in the positive COVID-19 test that the player used as the basis for his exemption document.

Der Spiegel, a German news magazine, said the QR code for the test showed a negative result when first scan, but later a positive result, and asked when the test was actually taken.

Zoran Gojkovic, a member of the Serbian ministry's COVID-19 crisis-fighting team, said the document was "absolutely valid."

While Australian Prime Minister Boris Scott Morrison has benefited from home for his strong stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not escaped for Djokovic's seemingly inconsistent handling.

The International Tennis Federation, a world tennis regulator, labelled the situation "disappointing for all involved," referring to countries' COVID-19 protocols. Djokovic also received criticism.

"While the International Immunization Council believes that full vaccination is a personal decision, we believe that this is the sole responsibility that we must all take in order to reduce restrictions and avoid such incidents in the future," it said in a statement.

Djokovic, 34, was revoked this week for procedural reasons and was bidding for a record 21st Grand Slam title.

On Friday, Hawke vowed to cancel the visa "on health and good order grounds," arguing that it was in the public interest to do so.

'PROTECTING BORDERS'

According to Hawke, Djokovic and the government had inquired about the matter, and that he was "clearly committed" to protecting Australia's borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Judge Anthony Kelly, who revoked the first cancellation, said the government had agreed not to deport Djokovic before the case was finalized, and that the player could meet his lawyers.

Djokovic has publicly opposed mandatory vaccination, but he has not campaigned against vaccination in general.

As he prepares for an election by May, the controversy has pushed global debate over people's right to choose whether or not to get vaccinated.

"During this pandemic, Australians have made many sacrifices, and they expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected," Morrison said in a statement.

"This is what the Minister is doing in taking this action today."

The Australians have endured some of the world's most difficult lockdowns, and the country has seen a runaway to almost a million cases in the last two weeks.

Over 90% of Australian adults are vaccinated, and a survey by the News Corp media group found that 83% were favorable to Djokovic's deportation.

A false entry declaration claimed that his mother had not travelled abroad within the two weeks before leaving for Australia hath his cause.

In fact, he had traveled between Spain and Serbia.

Djokovic blamed the mistake on his agent and stated that he should not have done an interview and photoshoot for a French newspaper on December 18 while infected with COVID-19.

Anti-vaccination campaigners hailed the player as a hero.

'PATENTLY IRRATIONAL,' says the author.

Djokovic's legal team said the government was arguing that allowing him to stay in Australia would incite others to refuse vaccination.

One of his lawyers said the defendant was ignoring the consequences that forcibly removing "this high-profile, legally compliant, negligible risk...player" might have on anti-vax sentiment and public order.

As a result of his Friday practice on a Melbourne Park, he was drafted in the draw for the open as the best seed and is due to face Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Greek world number four, said before Hawke's decision that Djokovic is "playing by his own rules" and making vaccinated players "look like fools."

Some people in Belgrade have already resigned due to Djokovic's absence.

"He is a model for all of us, but rules must be clearly set," Milan Majstorovic tells Reuters TV. "I am unsure how big the involvement of the politics is in that."

Ana Bojic, another passer-by, said: "He can either vaccinate to remain world no. 1 - or he can be stubborn and end his career."

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