Tennis Australia was warned by the federal government that unvaccinated players would not be able to rely on recent COVID-19 infections to skip quarantine before competing in this month's Australian Open, letters have revealed.
As world number one Novak Djokovic faces deportation after his visa to enter Australia was revoked on Thursday morning, correspondence has emerged detailing advice provided to Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley regarding travel rules for unvaccinated players.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who has been sent to immigration detention in Melbourne, is preparing a legal challenge in a desperate attempt to be able to defend his Australian Open crown.
The matter is scheduled to go before the federal circuit and family court at 4pm on Thursday.
The bombshell visa ruling, which has sparked a diplomatic spat with the Serbian government, came after the known anti-vaxxer revealed via social media that he secured a medical exemption to compete in this month's tournament in Melbourne.
The Victorian government and Tennis Australia later confirmed Djokovic had been granted a medical exemption to play in the Grand Slam without being vaccinated, following "blind" assessments from two panels of independent experts.
However, his visa to enter Australia - a process overseen by the federal government - was revoked after Australian Border Force ruled the the tennis star had failed to provide "appropriate evidence" to support a medical exemption.
While neither Djokovic, Australian government authorities or Tennis Australia have disclosed the grounds upon which the player sought the medical exemption, multiple reports have said he applied on the basis that he had been infected with COVID-19 in the past six months.
The two letters sent to Mr Tiley in late November, seen by The Canberra Times, revealed that unvaccinated players who had caught COVID-19 in the past six months would not be considered fully vaccinated - meaning they would be subject to quarantine upon arrival.
In the first letter, sent on November 18, federal Health Department first assistant secretary Lisa Schofield said the government's expert vaccine panel had advised that past infection was not a "contraindication" - or a medical reason not to take a certain treatment - for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
The advice in the letter seemingly contradicts the panel's own published guidance, which lists a recent COVID-19 infection among the possible reasons for temporary exemptions.
However, the rules appear to be slightly different for unvaccinated travelers from overseas. The Home Affairs website states that unvaccinated travelers must show evidence to airline staff of a medical condition which means they cannot receive the jab.
Australian Community Media has contacted Tennis Australia for comment.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday declared that "rules are rules" as he praised Border Force for its handling of the saga.
"Our government has strong form when it comes to securing our borders, and I don't think anybody doubts that," he said.
Mr Morrison rejected suggestions that Djokovic was targeted to quell public outrage, but accepted the tennis star's outspoken opposition to vaccines made him an obvious person to check on arrival.
"The ABF act on intelligence to direct their attention to potential arrivals," he said.
"When you get people making public statements ... about what they are going to do ... they draw significant attention to themselves."
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he had been in contact with Mr Djokovic, as he accused Australian authorities of "harassment".
"The whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world's best tennis player is brought to an end immediately," he said in a statement.
"In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth, and justice."
Mr Morrison confirmed the federal government had received representations from the Serbian embassy, stressing Belgrade has been a "good friend" of Australia.
He rejected suggestions the saga might damage Australia's international reputation.
"I understand [them], but my simple point is that all countries have their border rules and these rules are not imposed against any one country or any one individual," he said.
"They are rules that apply to all those who enter, and other countries have those same rules."
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