French Open 2023: Novak Djokovic criticised for message about Kosovo after first-round win

Camera lens with Novak Djokovic's message written on it
Novak Djokovic wrote the message on camera after his 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-1) win over Aleksandar Kovacevic on Tuesday
Day: May 28 – June 11 Location: Roland Garros, Paris
Network coverage: Live text and radio commentary on selected matches on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, BBC Sport website and app

France’s sports minister said Novak Djokovic’s political message about Kosovo at the French Open was “inappropriate” and “shouldn’t happen again”.

Amelie Oudea-Castera said there should be a “principle of neutrality on the playing field”.

Serb Djokovic wrote “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a camera lens.

It refers to recent tensions in Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Serbia has never recognized Kosovo’s independence and has is the violence of the past days after Albanian mayors were appointed in the north of the country, with Nato police and troops clashing with Serb protesters.

Oudea-Castera told France 2 broadcaster: “When you bring a message about defending human rights, a message that brings people together around universal values, then an athlete can freely express themselves. they”.

“But in this case, it’s a very positive message, very political. You shouldn’t be involved, especially in the current circumstances, and it shouldn’t happen again.”

Oudea-Castera said she distinguished pro-Ukraine messages ahead of the Russian invasion, adding that she did not put Kosovo and Ukraine “on an equal footing”.

That includes supporting Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk, who was booed by the crowd? after she refused to shake hands with Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on Sunday.

Belarus is an ally of Russia and allowed the military to use its territory to invade Ukraine last year.

“What is happening to the Ukrainians on the track is very painful, very difficult,” said Oudea-Castera.

“You can understand [Kostyuk’s refusal to shake hands]. Even if you want to always be fair and include the handshake, there is pain and I respect that.”

Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, who has repeatedly spoken out about tennis’ response to the Russian invasion, thinks Djokovic should be allowed to make his point.

“We live in the free world, so why not say your opinion on something?” Svitolina said after defeating Storm Hunter in the second round.

“I feel like if you support something, you think this is the way, you should say.”

Djokovic, 36, defended his message, which he wrote shortly after his first-round win over Aleksandar Kovacevic on Tuesday.

Speaking to Serbian journalists, the 22-time Grand Slam champion, whose father was born in Kosovo, said he was “opposed to war, violence and any form of conflict” but the situation in Kosovo is “a precedent in international law”.

“Especially as the son of a man born in Kosovo, I feel the need to support our people and the whole of Serbia,” said Djokovic.

“Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, the center of the things that are most important to our country. There are many reasons why I wrote that on camera.

“Of course, as a Serb, it breaks my heart to see what’s happening in Kosovo and how our people are practically expelled from city offices, so this The least I can do is this.”

The Olympic authorities of Kosovo have asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to open disciplinary proceedings against Djokovic, accusing him of stirring up political tensions.

Ismet Krasniqi, the president of the Olympic Committee of Kosovo, said: “Novak Djokovic is once again promoting the propaganda of Serbian nationalists and using the sports platform to do so.

On Tuesday, the Kosovo Tennis Federation said Djokovic’s actions would “lead to a direct consequence” of increasing tensions between the two countries.

The French Tennis Federation, the organizer of the French Open, said there were no rules about what players could say at Grand Slams and it was “understandable” that discussions about the International news events taking place at the tournament.

“The same rules apply to all four Grand Slam tournaments. Tournament Referees and Grand Slam Supervisors ensure that these rules are followed,” a statement read.

“Messages are forwarded to the teams of any players interested in such matters.”

Djokovic’s message ‘definitely ruffled’

Guy Delauney, BBC News Balkan correspondent

“Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” seems like an odd statement. After all, Kosovo became independent in 2008 – and its geography in the southwest meant that, even before that, it was always on the periphery of Serbia.

But its symbolic significance is still very important to many Serbs. The 1389 battle of Kosovo has been mythologized as the pivotal event in forging Serbian identity. And many of the most important sites of the Serbian Orthodox Church are located in present-day Kosovo.

Serbia is one of many countries that refuse to recognize Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. And Serbs with family ties to Kosovo especially want to ensure that Serbia’s policy of non-recognition continues.

It’s been a tumultuous month for Serbia – with mass shootings and many protests – and ethnic Serbs in Kosovo. By writing his flirtatious message, the country’s sports icon showed his support – but in a way that left one ruffled.

With his marker scribbles, Djokovic clearly illustrated the lingering complexity of the situation.

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