Belarusian and Russian flags have been banned from the Australian Open, the governing body for tennis in Australia said on Tuesday, after fans displayed a Russian flag at a first-round match between a Russian and Ukrainian player a day earlier.
Tennis — along with sports such as figure skating, and track and field — has struggled with its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Belarus has supported. In June, Wimbledon became the only one of the four major tennis tournaments to ban Russian and Belarusian players. The men’s and women’s tennis tours responded by preventing players from collecting points from the tournament that count toward overall rankings.
“Our initial policy was that fans could bring them in but could not use them to cause disruption,” Tennis Australia, the governing body, said in a statement, referring to the flags. “Yesterday we had an incident where a flag was placed courtside.”
In line with the Australian government’s policy on Russian and Belarusian athletes, the Australian Open has allowed players from those countries to compete. But they are not allowed to do so as representatives for their country, and the flags by their names on screens around the tournament have been removed or replaced by white boxes.
Other countries’ flags and symbols were a common sight on the first day of the tournament. Fans struggled through extreme heat, wearing shirts emblazoned with the red-and-white Croatian checkerboard to cheer on Borna Coric against the Czech player Jiri Lehecka or holding aloft South African and Italian flags as Lloyd Harris of South Africa faced off against Lorenzo Musetti of Italy.
At the match between Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia and Kateryna Baindl of Ukraine, where a Russian flag was prominently displayed, Ukrainian fans called the police and the security staff to the court, saying that Russian supporters were acting in a menacing way.
In a post on Twitter in the hours after the match, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, the Ukrainian ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, condemned the display at the match, which the Ukrainian player won. “I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its ‘neutral flag’ policy,” he wrote.
Jacinta Allen, a top official for the state of Victoria, where the tournament is held, praised the ban on the flags. “It sends a very, very clear message that human rights is important,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday.