'Nothing to do with politics': Belarusian tennis star weighs in on Australian Open flag ban
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Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka has weighed in on the ban of Russian and her own nation’s flags at the Australian Open.
Tennis Australia put a blanket ban on the flags following a controversial display of the red, white, and blue flag of Russia during a matchup between Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova and Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl.
Initially, organisers had permitted such flags to be allowed inside the court, however, following the display and backlash they promptly changed their policy.
Despite the new ruling fans were still spotted at John Cain Arena sporting the flag during the matchup between Russia’s Andrey Rublev and Austrian Dominic Thiem, according to Wide World Of Sport.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Australian Open has required Russian and Belarusian athletes to run flag-less and compete as neutrals.
Sabalenka is one of those athletes and says she become disillusioned by the recent sanctions in the wake of the new restrictions on flags.
She spoke to the media in a press conference following her straight-sets win over Tereza Martincova.
She said: “I really thought that like tennis - not tennis, just the sport - is nothing to do with politics.
"But, I mean, if everyone feels better this way, then it's okay.
"I mean, I have zero control on it. What can I say? They did it, okay, no flags, no flags. Okay
"I don't know. I'm pretty sure they ('re) upset about that, and, I mean, if Tennis Australia made this decision to make them feel better, okay.
"They did it, I mean, what can I do, okay? I can do nothing."
The broadcast display of the Russian flag during the Rakhimova and Baindl matchup sparked outrage online.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko demanded that Tennis Australia take action.
He wrote: “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.
“I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its ‘neutral flag’ policy.”
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. I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its “neutral flag” policy. @TennisAustralia @AustralianOpen pic.twitter.com/zw8pLN4FIF— Vasyl Myroshnychenko (@AmbVasyl) January 16, 2023
Tennis Australia subsequently released a statement in which they banned the flags.
It read: “Flags from Russia and Belarus are banned onsite at the Australian Open.
"Our initial policy was that fans could bring them in but could not use them to cause disruption. Yesterday we had an incident where a flag was placed courtside.
"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."