Fans attending the Australian Open this year will no longer be able to bring Russian or Belarusian flags into tournament grounds after an incident during a match on Monday between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova.
Tennis Australia released a statement on Tuesday announcing a reversal of its policy after a Russian flag was spotted “courtside” during Baindl’s 7-5, 6-7 (8), 6-1 victory over Rakhimova.
“Our initial policy was that fans could bring (flags) in but could not use them to cause disruption. Yesterday we had an incident where a flag was placed courtside. We will continue to work with the players and our fans to ensure that this is the best possible environment to enjoy the tennis.”
Another flag was spotted during Russian player Daniil Medvedev’s match against Marcos Giron in Rod Laver Arena on Monday night. After his 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 win, Medvedev was offered the flag to sign, which he did.
Vasyl Myroshnychenko, ambassador of Ukraine to Australia and New Zealand, took to social media prior to the ban to condemn the “public display of the Russian flag.”
“I strongly condemn the public display of the Russian flag during the game of the Ukrainian tennis player Kateryna Baindl at the Australian Open today,” he said in a tweet. “I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its ‘neutral flag’ policy.”
The former Australian ambassador to Ukraine, Doug Trappett, also took to social media to call the incident “embarrassing.”
According to The Guardian, another Russian flag was spotted during a match on Tuesday despite the ban. Tennis Australia told the outlet that the fans with the flag were “spoken to by security and the flag was removed.”
Russian and Belarusian athletes have been barred from competing in some tournaments, including Wimbledon, but have been allowed to enter other Grand Slams as “neutral” competitors.
The Russian embassy in Australia accused tournament officials of giving into “overt and rather arrogant political manipulation” in response to the ban on flags.
“On top of already discriminating against Russian tennis players with its ‘neutral flag’ policy, Tennis Australia now went further by making sure they can not be visibly supported by their fans,” the embassy said in a statement, via Reuters.
“It is indeed regrettable to see the tournament organizers give in to overt and rather arrogant political manipulation sacrificing the spirit of fair play once inherent to the Australian Open.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.