The Russian and Belarusian flags are now banned from the stands at the Australian Open, the National Tennis Federation said on Tuesday, seized by Ukrainian diplomacy in the matter, a decision Moscow has described as an “unacceptable politicization of the sport”.
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“Russian and Belarusian flags are banned at the Australian Open,” the Australian FA said in a statement, adding that the ban came into effect “immediately”.
“Our initial policy was that spectators could bring them but not use them to cause disruption,” Tennis Australia added.
While Russian and Belarusian tennis players have been competing under a neutral banner for almost a year, the Russian tricolor was particularly visible in the stands during the match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova on Monday, the first day of the Australian Open (win of the first in three sentences).
In the stands, Ukrainian supporters had asked the security services and the police to react.
Another Russian flag was also seen at Rod Laver Arena during Daniil Medvedev’s winning match against American Marcos Giron.
Russian Daniil Medvedev
The Ukrainian ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, therefore called on the Australian association to take action.
“I strongly condemn the public display of Russian flags during the game of Ukrainian tennis player Kateryna Baindl,” he tweeted, urging the country’s “neutral banner policy” to be respected.
Mr Myroshnychenko had already called on the Australian Open last week to ban Russian and Belarusian players outright – Belarus supports Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine – as organizers of the Wimbledon tournament did last year.
“You could have banned Russian players and positioned yourself by reacting seriously to these foreseeable incidents, but you chose cowardice,” tweeted former Australian Ambassador to Ukraine Doug Trappett, who served in 2015 and 2016 country was in office.
“No control over it”
In response to Tuesday’s ban, the Russian embassy in Australia castigated “another example of the unacceptable politicization of sport.”
“Besides discriminating against Russian players with this ‘neutral banner’ policy, the Australian FA now goes a step further by ensuring that they cannot benefit from any visible support from their admirers,” she lamented in a press release.
World No. 5 Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka also called for the separation of sport and politics, but was philosophical, saying she doesn’t mind banning her country’s and Russia’s flags “if everyone feels better that way”.
“I have no control over it. What can I say? They did, OK, no flags,” added Sabalenka, who was among the players banned from Wimbledon last year.
Asked if she could understand that some Ukrainian spectators might be upset at the sight of Russian or Belarusian flags, she replied: “I’m pretty sure they will get hurt by that and if Tennis Australia made this decision for them.” feel better, alright”.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine almost a year ago, Russian and Belarusian players have competed under neutral banners in competitions including the Australian Open.