Serbia’s president has accused the Australian government of having “humiliated themselves” during its long-running dispute with tennis player Novak Djokovic over the cancellation of his visa.
Aleksandar Vucic told reporters on Sunday that Canberra had engaged in “Orwellian performances” and claimed they had lied before the courts.
Djokovic, who is Serbian and is not vaccinated against COVID-19, landed in Australia on January 5, hoping to defend his Australian open title.
But after a drawn out affair and outrage in Australia, where people have been under strict anti-COVID restrictions, he left on Sunday.
It came after federal judges dismissed his appeal against a decision to cancel his visa, leaving him with little hope of an appeal.
Vucic said on Sunday: “You saw in the pointless court proceeding how much the prosecution lied.”
“They are simply lying. They say there are fewer than 50 per cent vaccinated people in Serbia and officially the number is 58 per cent,” he said.
“Don’t forget that’s higher than in many European Union countries. That was a pointless argument, but that’s possible in Orwellian performances,” the president said.
Vucic suggested that the Australian government’s treatment of Djokovic could be due to an expected federal election in the country later this year.
Referring to Australian athletes who will visit Serbia for a planned event in March, he said “we won’t mistreat them due to elections.”
Vucic said he had spoken to Djokovic on Sunday morning and added that “we can’t wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome.”
“They think they humiliated Djokovic with this, the best player in the world, by the ten-day harassment, they humiliated themselves and Djokovic can return to his country with his head high up and look everyone in the eye,” Vucic said.
Vucic’s apparent anger reflects the views of many Serbians who have expressed unhappiness about the tennis star’s recent treatment.
Djokovic has been engaged in a legal battle with the Australian government over his right to remain in the country in order to defend his Australian Open Title.
His visa was initially canceled by Border Force agents at Melbourne Airport because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.
The tennis star successfully appealed that cancelation. He argued that he had an exemption to the vaccine requirement because he had been diagnosed with COVID in December.
However, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke reviewed the matter and canceled Djokovic’s visa on a different basis, saying his presence in the country “may be counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others in Australia.”
Federal Court judges declined to overturn that decision and it appeared likely Djokovic would be deported before the start of the Australian Open on Monday. He was seen boarding a flight from Melbourne to Dubai hours after the ruling.
Djokovic issued a statement saying he was “extremely disappointed with the Court ruling.”
“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” the statement said.