Russian and Belarusian flags banned at Australian Open

The first major of the year, Australian Open is taking place at Melbourne Park, from 16–29 January 2023. Yesterday, Tennis Australia confirmed a policy change whereby Russian and Belarusian flags have been banned until the end of the Grand Slam tournament.

“Our initial policy was that fans could bring (flags) in but could not use them to cause disruption,” TA said in a statement. “Flags from Russia and Belarus are banned onsite at the Australian Open. 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.”

The ban comes after a Russian flag has been displayed courtside during a match between Ukrainian player Kateryna Baindl and Russian player Kamilla Rakhimova. Russian and Belarusian players are only allowed to compete in tournament under a neutral white flag as independent, “neutral” athletes, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, urged TA to take action, writing on Twitter: “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.” Another flag was offered to Russian player Daniil Medvedev to autograph after his win, on Monday night.

“To say that sport is beyond politics is just not true, and everybody knows it.”

Vasyl Myroshnychenko

Mr. Myroshnychenko applauded the ban on Tuesday, “it’s always good to learn from mistakes and to actually try to fix it … I think that it’s important they will enforce it because it’s a great deal of distraction as well as a traumatising experience,” he said. “They could have avoided it from the very beginning if they had banned Russian participation from the very beginning but they didn’t. We’re going to be seeing more of that throughout the competition, unfortunately.”

Monday, the opening day saw a record number of spectators, nearly 78,000.