Novak Djokovic (file pic). Alamy Stock Photo

Melbourne 'maggot-fame hotel' at centre of Djokovic vaccine saga

The nine-time Australian Open champion has been stripped of his entry visa by border control agents.

LAST UPDATE | 6 Jan 2022

HE IS the tennis world number one with more than $150 million in prize money to his name — but this year Melbourne is reportedly putting Novak Djokovic up in a hotel best known for immigrant detentions and maggot-ridden food.

The nine-time Australian Open champion has been stripped of his entry visa by border control agents for failing to give enough evidence that he is fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or has a valid medical exemption.

While he launches a legal battle to overturn the visa decision and defend his title in a tournament barely 10 days away, the 34-year-old Serbian is widely reported to be lodged in the city’s Park Hotel.

The dark-brown brick and concrete building is a far cry from the residence Djokovic enjoyed last year, when tough Covid-19 restrictions forced players to exercise in their hotel rooms and balconies while in quarantine.

Then, Djokovic reportedly sent a letter to Tennis Australia complaining about the luxury hotel’s conditions and demanding players stay in private homes with tennis courts and better food.

This year, he is believed to be in an establishment housing around 32 detainees who cannot leave the hotel and nobody is allowed in or out except staff. Migrants say the rooms are relatively small.

Australia’s border control authorities have refused to confirm where the player is staying.

The Park Hotel gained notoriety last December when a fire in the building forced refugees and asylum seekers to be evacuated. One person was hospitalised for smoke inhalation. There were no fatalities.

A week later, asylum seekers posted images to social media showing food they had been served allegedly filled with maggots alongside mouldy pieces of bread.

Earlier, in October, 21 men reportedly contracted Covid in the facility, which has been the site of regular protests.

- ‘So sad’ -

Detainee Mehdi Ali told AFP, that although Djokovic is his favourite tennis player, he was saddened by the prospect of the star being detained there.

“The media will talk about us more, the whole world probably, which is so sad, just because Djokovic would be here for a few days.”

Nearly 180 people have been released from detention in the Park Hotel in the past year.

Most of those remaining are said to have been brought into Australia for medical attention from their offshore detention in the tiny Pacific island of Nauru and in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

In a prior life, it was known as the Rydges hotel and served in 2020 as a Covid-19 quarantine hotel. It was blamed for being the source of a wave of infections in the city.

As Djokovic waited in his temporary new home for news of his legal battle, a crowd of a few dozen fans gathered in a nearby park playing music and protesting his detention.

“Do you know how I’m feeling? I’m feeling sad,” said Gordana, a female Djokovic supporter. “And feeling that I lost part of my heart because of Djokovic. Djokovic is (like my) son.”

Outside the building, a score of activists protested against Australia’s strict immigration policies introduced to stop people from gaining entry by boat. Police stood nearby.

A banner hanging from the building’s awning read: “Abolish detention centres.”

Others gathered to protest the restrictions they have endured to constrain Covid-19, as well as seeking other freedoms.

“I’m here on behalf of all the people that are fighting for freedom whether it’s for refugees, whether it’s Novak whether it’s the people in general, the public, well over these mandates who are sick and tired of being restricted,” said Ryan Guszich.

“And freedom in general. And, you know, it’s our body our choice.”

– © AFP 2022

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