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Tennis-‘New Spartacus’ Djokovic’s treatment in Australia ‘a disgrace’, say father, ex-mentor

Randy Mancini 19 Jan 6
A supporter of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic holds a sign outside the Park Hotel, where Djokovic is believed to be staying, in Melbourne
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic holds a sign outside the Park Hotel, where Djokovic is believed to be staying, in Melbourne, Australia January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

January 6, 2022

By Zoran Milosavljevic

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic is a victim of Australian political games, his former mentor told Reuters after he was denied entry into the country for the Australian Open on Thursday, while the player’s furious father described him as a symbol of the poor and oppressed.

The 34-year-old Djokovic was granted a medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination requirements to defend his title in the year’s first major, but after a public outcry the world number one was detained https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/exclusive-novak-djokovic-denied-entry-australia-seeking-injunction-stop-2022-01-05 by officials at the border on Thursday.

His former mentor Niki Pilic told Reuters the situation as “farcical” and a “disgrace”, adding that: “Politics have interfered with sports here as it so often does.”

Djokovic is now in a quarantine hotel in Melbourne after his lawyers secured an agreement for him to stay in the country for a court hearing on Monday in which he hopes to overturn the federal government ban on his entry.

“Novak has become the symbol and a leader of the libertarian world, a world of poor and oppressed nations and people. My son has shown that a small and heroic country like Serbia can boast of the world’s all-time best tennis player and athlete,” Djokovic’s father Srdjan told the Telegraf website.

“They can incarcerate him tonight, shackle him tomorrow, but truth is like water, as it always finds its way. Novak is the Spartacus of the new world that doesn’t tolerate injustice, colonialism and hypocrisy,” he said.

“Novak has shown you can achieve anything if you have dreams, and he shares these dreams with billions of people who look up to him.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday that Djokovic would receive no special treatment.

“The Australian Prime Minister is trying to please a part of the country’s society and improve his poor political rating by saying ‘Djokovic can’t compete because I said that unvaccinated athletes will be banned from competing’,” Pilic told Reuters.

“In my opinion it’s politically motivated,” said the Croatian Pilic, who oversaw the early stages of Djokovic’s career as a teenager at his tennis academy in Germany.

“To deny entry to the winner of nine Australian Open titles because of wrong paperwork, if the visa application was erroneous, is farcical.”

Former Yugoslavia Davis Cup coach Radmilo Armenulic said Djokovic had been treated “like a felon” and described the situation as an “extraordinary scandal.”

“They detained him under police presence. He was held in a room for eight hours after he was cleared to take part in the Australian Open by the medical panel,” Armenulic told Reuters.

“This decision, in my opinion, reflects lawlessness and not the rule of law. They have treated Novak like a criminal and a villain to stop him from winning his 21st Grand Slam.”

(Reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic; writing by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Hugh Lawson)