Russian and Belarusian flags have been banned from the Australian Open tennis tournament after a courtside incident on Monday, January 16.
Tennis spectators were initially permitted to bring Russian or Belarusians flags into Melbourne Park on the condition they would not cause “disruption” due to the furore in the West over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But the tournament organisers reversed that decision on Tuesday, January 17 after fans displayed a Russian flag during a match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russian Kamilla Rakhimova.
The Australian open organizers say the ban is effective immediately.
“We will continue to work with the players and our fans to ensure the best possible environment to enjoy the tennis,” Tennis Australia said in a statement.
Ukrainian fans say they called police and security to the first-round match on Monday, claiming Russian supporters were “taunting” Ukraine’s Baindl.
“This is profoundly unsafe, the war is ongoing,” one fan told local newspaper The Age.
“It’s a small court, the guys were extremely close to the players, so there was an element of what I felt was intimidation.”
But one of the Russian men involved defended his actions.
He said: “People can view that as being obnoxious but we were just being your normal supporters. There was no ridiculing or disrespect.”
Russian and Belarusian athletes have not been able to play under their countries’ flags in several sports, including tennis, since the invasion of Ukraine began in February last year.
While players from the two countries are competing under a neutral white flag during the Australian Open, they were banned from playing at Wimbledon altogether in 2022.
The Victorian state government on Tuesday said Tennis Australia had made the right decision.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is abhorrent,” acting premier Jancinta Allan said. “It breaches international human rights obligations. It’s been enabled and supported by Belarus.
“[This] sends a very, very clear message that human rights are important, whether it’s in sport, or more broadly in our community.”
The ban comes after Ukrainian tennis player, Marta Kostyuk said she would not shake hands with opponents from Russia and Belarus who she believes have not done enough to condemn the invasion.