Editor’s Note: Stephanie Myles is the Montreal-based publisher of the tennis news site Open Court who has reported from the Australian Open since 2008. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
This was not part of Novak Djokovic’s plan. The tennis star who posed with a big grin Tuesday, planes on the tarmac behind him, announcing that he’d been granted a medical exemption to play at the Australian Open and was about to fly Down Under, was instead about to embark on a saga of epic proportions.
Had things gone according to Djokovic’s plans, he would have arrived in Australia Wednesday night and be out on Rod Laver Arena in the Melbourne summer sun by Friday at the latest, working out the kinks from the flight and preparing for the Australian Open.
Instead, Djokovic spent Wednesday night at Tullamarine Airport. And he’ll spend at least the next four days at Melbourne’s Park Hotel, after apparently traveling to Australia on a visa that does not permit medical exemptions for the unvaccinated, according to comments Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made to CNN.
Djokovic, 34, has not publicly revealed his vaccination status and has repeatedly cited privacy issues when asked. On Thursday, Morrison said in a news conference that Djokovic “didn’t have a valid medical exemption” to the vaccination requirement for arrivals.
The multimillionaire tennis star is now a man in limbo, currently staying in a hotel used as an immigration detention center, and which has since become a magnet for protesters of all stripes – from Djokovic supporters to refugee advocates. Djokovic fans even got a wave and a “heart” sign from their hero, from behind the hotel-room window.
But according to accounts from some asylum-seekers who have stayed there, the Park Hotel is a place of tiny rooms without fresh air and the location of a coronavirus outbreak in October. It’s where some occupants have waited years for a resolution to their cases.