He’s the world number one with more than $210 million to his name, but Novak Djokovic is now having the worst holiday imaginable.
He is the tennis world number one with more than $210 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 just 10 days away, the 34-year-old Serbian is being held in detention in Melbourne’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.
At the time, Djokovic sent a letter to Tennis Australia complaining about the conditions and demanding players stay in private homes with tennis courts and better food.
This year, he is believed to be in a $109-a-night 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.
Border control authorities have refused to confirm where the player is staying.
Hotel’s notorious past
The Park Hotel gained notoriety in 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, on December 27, asylum seekers posted images to social media showing food they had been served allegedly filled with maggots alongside mouldy pieces of bread.
Salah told SBS News: “I was just shocked. The food they’ve been delivering is putting people in danger.
“Even an animal cannot eat this type of food.”
Another asylum seeker said he threw up after eating the food provided by the hotel.
Earlier, in October, 21 men reportedly contracted Covid in the facility, which has been the site of regular protests.
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,” he said.
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.
Now it is housing its most famous guest, but he is reportedly not pleased about it.
Djokovic has reportedly already asked to move to a rented apartment where his team is staying after finding “bugs” in his hotel room, and his wallet and belongings are still at the airport, SportKlub reporter Sasa Osmo reported.
While the hotel is not currently accepting bookings and it is unclear how much a room costs now, a guest said he paid $109 for a room in 2017. According to the website, amenities include a “fitness area” but no tennis court for the star to practise on.
There are around 32 refugees and asylum seekers being held at the hotel alongside the world number one.
‘We are waiting for the virus to come’
Shoddy facilities and bad food are not all Djokovic has to worry about in the Park Hotel — particularly given his questionable vaccine status.
Refugees who stay there have already raised red flags over an alleged lack of Covid-19 prevention measures. They are reportedly made to share a common kitchen area and lift if travelling between floors.
People who test positive are moved to the first floor but this can happen days after the tests are taken, sources alleged to The Guardian.
Salah Mustafa, who was held at the hotel, said: ‘I sit in the room and I am afraid. We are all afraid.
“Today, I am negative, my son is negative. But tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, what then? Everywhere is infection.
“We are trapped here. We are stuck in our rooms, waiting (for) this virus to come.”
Victoria’s health minister Martin Foley said he was “quite concerned” about the situation in the hotel, while the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne described the latest outbreak as an “avoidable disaster”.
Bizarre scenes outside
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.”