Novak Djokovic has effectively been imprisoned by the Australian authorities in the row over a Covid-19 medical exemption, his father has claimed.
The 34-year-old is being detained at the Park Hotel, a state-run quarantine facility in Melbourne which has also housed asylum seekers, while awaiting the outcome of an appeal against the decision by the Australian Border Force (ABF) to cancel his entry visa and deport him.
Djokovic, who has spoken in the past about his opposition to vaccination, posted on social media before setting off for the Australian Open to say he had received “exemption permission” to enter the country but the ABF refused to let him in, saying he had failed to provide appropriate evidence to justify the exemption.
Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said Djokovic was the victim of “political persecution” by the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and others in the country’s government, and called on them to move him from the “horrific hotel” where he is being detained into a private rented house.
Previous occupants at the facility in the Carlton suburb of Melbourne are reported to have complained about maggots and mould within the meals served there, and Djokovic’s father Srdjan said in an interview broadcast by Sky News that his son was being singled out unfairly.
“Novak and his team filed the same documents as 25 other tennis players (who received exemptions) and they didn’t have any problems, just Novak,” Djokovic senior said.
“They wanted to humiliate him. They could have said ‘don’t come Novak’ and that would have been okay. But no, they wanted to humiliate him and they’re still keeping him in prison.
“He’s not in detention, he’s in prison. They took all of his stuff, even his wallet, they left him with just his phone and no change of clothes, nowhere to wash his face.
“Our pride is a prisoner of these idiots, shame on them, the whole free world together with Serbia should rise. This isn’t a battle for Serbia and Novak, it’s a battle for billions of people, for freedom of expression, for free speech, freedom of behaviour.
“Novak didn’t break any laws, just as seven billion people didn’t break any laws, they want to subdue us and for us all to be on our knees.”
Australian Prime Minister Morrison even indicated that Djokovic’s public statement about the exemption had drawn him to the attention of the ABF.
“One of the things that the Border Force does… is act on intelligence to direct their attention to potential arrivals,” he said in quotes broadcast by Sky Sports News.
“When you get people making public statements about what they say they have and what they are going to do and what their claims are, they draw significant attention to themselves.
“Anyone who does that, whether they’re a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player, a journalist, whoever does that, they can expect to be asked questions more than others before you come.”
Djokovic’s great rival, Rafael Nadal, had little sympathy for the Serbian.
“I have been vaccinated twice. If you do this, you don’t have any problem to play here,” the Spaniard said after his match against Ricardas Berankis at the Melbourne Summer Set warm-up tournament on Thursday.
“The only clear thing is if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open and everywhere, and the world in my opinion has been suffering enough to not follow the rules.
“There are rules, and if you don’t want to get the vaccine, then you can have some troubles. I think if he wanted, he would be playing here in Australia without a problem.
“He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences.
“Of course I don’t like the situation that is happening. In some way I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions months ago, so he makes his own decision.”