Novak Djokovic made ‘error of judgment’ after positive COVID-19 test

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic has acknowledged that his Australian travel declaration form contained incorrect information, as the government nears a decision on whether to deport the Serbian tennis star, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, on public interest grounds.

The men’s tennis No. 1 had his visa canceled on arrival in Melbourne last week when his vaccination exemption was questioned, but he won a legal battle on procedural grounds that allowed him to stay in the country. He still faces the prospect of deportation — a decision that is entirely at the discretion of Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke if deemed to be in the public interest for health and safety reasons.

Hawke has been considering the question since a judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa on Monday.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said most Australians disapproved of the nine-time and defending Australian Open champion coming to Melbourne to compete in breach of the nation’s tough pandemic quarantine rules.

“Most of us thought because Mr. Djokovic hadn’t been vaxxed twice that he would be asked to leave,” Joyce told Nine Network television on Thursday. “Well, that was our view, but it wasn’t the court’s view.”

“The vast majority of Australians … didn’t like the idea that another individual, whether they’re a tennis player or … the king of Spain or the Queen of England, can come up here and have a different set of rules to what everybody else has to deal with,” Joyce added.

In a statement posted to his social media accounts on Wednesday, the tennis star blamed “human error” by his support team for failing to declare that he had traveled in the two-week period before entering Australia.

Giving false information on the form could be grounds for deportation, the latest twist in a saga over whether the athlete should be allowed stay in Australia despite not being vaccinated. The initial news that Djokovic was granted an exemption to strict vaccination rules to enter the country provoked an outcry and the ensuing dispute has since overshadowed the lead-up to the Australian Open.

Djokovic acknowledged the lapses when he sought to clarify what he called “continuing misinformation” about his movements after he became infected last month — though he did not spell out what inaccuracies he was referring to.

The statement was posted while Djokovic was in Rod Laver Arena holding a practice session, his third on the tournament’s main court since being released from four nights in immigration detention.

Djokovic remains in limbo before the year’s first tennis major starts Monday. The stakes are particularly high since he is seeking a men’s record 21st Grand Slam singles title.

Deportation could result in sanctions ranging up to a three-year ban from entering Australia, a daunting prospect for a player who has won almost half of his 20 Grand Slam singles titles here.

Court documents detailing Djokovic’s positive test sparked speculation over the star player’s attendance at events in his native Serbia last month. Further questions also were raised about errors on his immigration form that could potentially result in the cancellation of his visa yet again.

On the form, Djokovic said he had not traveled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia, despite being seen in Spain and Serbia in that period.

In his statement, Djokovic described recent commentary as “hurtful” and said he wanted to address it in the interest of “alleviating broader concern in the community about my presence in Australia.”

The 34-year-old Serb said he’d taken rapid tests that were negative and he was asymptomatic before he received his positive result from a PCR test he undertook out of an “abundance of caution” after attending a basketball game in Belgrade on Dec. 14.

He received the result late Dec. 17, he said, and scrapped all his commitments except a long-standing interview with L’Equipe newspaper the following day.

“I felt obliged to go ahead … but did ensure I socially distanced and wore a mask except when my photograph was being taken,” Djokovic said.

The L’Equipe reporter who interviewed the athlete wrote in the newspaper that he and a photographer were also masked during the session — and kept their distance except for a brief moment as Djokovic said goodbye. The reporter said he tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday, and did not mention the photographer’s status.

“While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was an error of judgment,” Djokovic said.

At the time, Serbia required those who were infected with COVID-19 to isolate for at least 14 days. But Djokovic was seen a little over a week after his positive test on the streets of Belgrade, though he said he had tested negative in between.

Meanwhile, Djokovic addressed the Australian travel declaration by saying it was submitted by his support team and “my agent sincerely apologizes for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box.”

“This was a human error and certainly not deliberate,” he wrote. “My team has provided additional information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter.”

The decision could take a while — but there is time pressure since the draw to determine brackets for the Australian Open is set to take place Thursday.

Hawke’s office issued a statement on Wednesday saying Djokovic’s legal team had filed further documents and added: “Naturally, this will affect the timeframe for a decision.”

At issue is whether he has a valid exemption to strict rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia since he recently recovered from COVID-19.

His exemption to compete was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, the tournament organizer. That apparently allowed him to receive a visa to travel.

But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa upon arrival before a federal judge overturned that decision. Lawyers for the government have said an infection was only grounds for an exemption in cases in which the coronavirus caused severe illness — though it’s not clear why he was issued a visa if that’s the case.

The initial decision to let him compete sparked complaints that Djokovic was being given special treatment — and the subsequent cancellation of his visa raised allegations that he was being targeted once the issue became political. The saga is playing out against the backdrop of growing concern in Australia over surging COVID-19 cases — and the government’s strategy to contain them.

If Djokovic’s visa is canceled, his lawyers could go back to court to apply for an injunction that would prevent him from being forced to leave the country.

Sydney-based immigration lawyer Simon Jeans said if Djokovic’s visa were canceled, he would likely be held in immigration detention. Djokovic could apply for a bridging visa to compete in the tournament pending the appeal. The immigration department would have two business days to decide that application. If Djokovic were refused such a visa, an appeal would typically take weeks, Jeans said.

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Chloe Kim, Elana Meyers Taylor among Olympians to join presidential sports council

Elana Meyers Taylor, President Joe Biden
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Chloe Kim and Elana Meyers Taylor are among the Olympic and Paralympic medalists set to join the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition.

President Joe Biden intends to appoint the snowboarder Kim, bobsledder Meyers Taylor, retired Olympic medalists Chaunté Lowe (track and field) and Tamika Catchings (basketball) and Paralympic medalist Melissa Stockwell (triathlon) to the council, among other athletes and people in the health and fitness fields, it was announced Friday.

Stephen and Ayesha Curry are also on the list.

The council “aims to promote healthy, accessible eating and physical activity for all Americans, regardless of background or ability.”

Last year, Biden appointed basketball gold medalist Elena Delle Donne a co-chair of the council.

Kim, the two-time reigning Olympic halfpipe champion, sat out this past season but is expected to return to competition for a third Olympic run in 2026.

Meyers Taylor, the most decorated U.S. Olympic bobsledder in history with medals in all five of her Olympic events, sat out this past season due to pregnancy. She took her first bobsled run in 13 months this past week in Lake Placid, New York.

There is a long history of Olympians and Paralympians serving on the council, which was created in 1956.

In 2017, Barack Obama appointed medalists including gymnast Gabby Douglas, soccer player Carli Lloyd and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Others to previously be on the council include sprinter Allyson Felix, figure skater Michelle Kwan and swimmer and triathlete Brad Snyder.

Members serve for two years and can be reappointed.

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Kaori Sakamoto wins figure skating worlds; top American places fourth

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Kaori Sakamoto overcame a late error in her free skate to become the first Japanese figure skater to win back-to-back world titles and the oldest women’s world champion since 2014.

Sakamoto, 22, totaled 224.61 points on home ice in Saitama to prevail by 3.67 over Lee Hae-In of South Korea in the closest women’s finish at worlds since 2011.

Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx took bronze, edging 16-year-old American Isabeau Levito for a medal by 2.77 points.

Sakamoto is the oldest women’s singles world champion since Mao Asada (2014), who is now the only Japanese skater with more world titles than Sakamoto.

She appeared en route to an easier victory until singling a planned triple flip late in her free skate, which put the gold in doubt. She can be thankful for pulling off the second jump of that planned combination — a triple toe loop — and her 5.62-point lead from Wednesday’s short program.

“I feel so pathetic and thought, what was all that hard work I put into my training?” Sakamoto said of her mistake, according to the International Skating Union (ISU). “But I was able to refocus and do my best till the end.

“Because I have this feeling of regret at the biggest event of the season, I want to make sure I don’t have this feeling next season. So I want to practice even harder, and I want to make sure to do clean, perfect performances at every competition.”

Lee, who had the top free skate, became the second South Korean to win a world medal in any discipline after six-time medalist Yuna Kim.

Hendrickx followed her silver from last year, when she became the first Belgian women’s singles skater to win a world medal.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Levito, last year’s world junior champion, had a chance to become the youngest senior world medalist since 2014.

After a solid short program, she fell on her opening triple Lutz in the free skate and left points on the table by performing two jump combinations rather than three. The Lutz was planned to be the first half of a combination with a triple loop.

“I am severely disappointed because I’ve been nailing my Lutz-loop for a really long time, and this is the first time I’ve messed it up in a while, and of course it had to be when it actually counted,” Levito said, according to the ISU. “But I’m pretty happy with myself for just trying to move past it and focusing on making the most out of the rest of the program.”

Levito entered worlds ranked fourth in the field by best score this season. She matched the best finish for a U.S. woman in her senior global championships debut (Olympics and worlds) since Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan took silver and bronze at the 1991 Worlds. Sasha Cohen, to whom Levito is often compared, also placed fourth in her Olympic and world debuts in 2002.

“I feel very proud for myself and grateful for my coaching team for helping me get this far so far in my skating career, and I’m just very proud to be where I am,” Levito said on USA Network.

American Amber Glenn was 12th in her world debut. Two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell was 15th. They had been 10th and eighth, respectively, in the short program.

The U.S. qualified two women’s spots for next year’s worlds rather than the maximum three because the top two Americans’ results added up to more than 13 (Levito’s fourth plus Glenn’s 12th equaled 16). The U.S. was in position to qualify three spots after the short program.

Glenn said after the short program that she had a very difficult two weeks before worlds, including “out-of-nowhere accidents and coincidences that could have prevented me from being here,” and boot problems that affected her triple Axel. She attempted a triple Axel in the free skate, spinning out of an under-rotated, two-footed landing.

Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022, had several jumping errors in the free skate.

“This season has been like one thing after another,” said the 25-year-old Tennell, who plans to compete through the 2026 Winter Games. “I’m really excited to get back and work on some stuff for the new season.”

Earlier, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the rhythm dance, starting their bid for a first world title in their 12th season together and after three prior world silver or bronze medals.

“We skated as best we possibly could today,” Bates said, according to the ISU, after they tallied the world’s top score this season.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the lone U.S. ice dancers to win a world title, doing so in 2011 and 2013.

Worlds continue Friday night (U.S. time) with the free dance, followed Saturday morning with the men’s free skate, live on Peacock and USA Network.

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