After his second-round success at the French Open in Paris against Hungary’s Marton Fucsovic (7: 6, 6: 0, 6: 3) late on Wednesday evening, tennis pro Novak Djokoivic beamed as if nothing had happened. Even when the subject came up, with which the Serb caused great political unrest, his friendly expression did not change. “I don’t mind saying that. I would do it again. Of course I’m aware that a lot of people have different opinions, but it is what it is,” said the 36-year-old in reference to his sentence two days before.
What happened? The Serb had left his sporting world and entered the political arena – causing trouble. After his first round win against the American Aleksandar Kovacevic, Djokovic had “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence!” written on the lens of a TV camera. The tennis pro had stated that he felt obliged “as a public figure” to “show support for our people and all of Serbia”.
No further comments from Djokovic
The French Minister of Sport, Amelie Oudea-Castera, then spoke up and criticized Novak Djokovic’s political message as “inappropriate”. At the same time, she issued a warning to the Serbian tennis star. “When it comes to defending human rights and bringing people together around universal values, every athlete can do it,” she said on TV channel France 2. However, Djokovic’s message was “militant, very political” and shouldn’t be repeated. Djokovic himself held back on Wednesday. “I don’t want to say anything more, I’ve said everything that’s necessary,” Djokovic added.
The background to Djokovic’s action is the recent unrest in the Serbian-dominated north of Kosovo. Militant Serbs had protested against the appointment of new mayors in Zvecan and other municipalities. 30 soldiers of the NATO-led Kosovo Protection Force KFOR were injured. In addition, according to a hospital in Mitrovica, 53 Serbs were injured. Kosovo, which is now almost exclusively inhabited by Albanians, declared its independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognize the statehood of its former province and demands its return.
IOC called to action
Tournament director Amelie Mauresmo spoke to Djokovic and his team and pointed out the principles of “neutrality”, reported Minister of Sport Oudea-Castera. The organizers left open whether there were any concrete consequences for the campaign and only pointed out in a general statement that the same rules would apply to all Grand Slam tournaments.
The National Olympic Committee of Kosovo called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to demand that the world association ITF investigate the incident and initiate disciplinary proceedings against Djokovic. The IOC was asked to comment.
ITF does not want to react
The ITF has not opened any disciplinary proceedings. Its President David Haggerty told the AP news agency on Wednesday morning that a letter had been received from Kosovo, answered and forwarded to the French organizer of the Grand Slam tournament and the men’s organization ATP. “You make the rules for this event.” And the ITF President added that athletes need to be careful about their political views. “We talk about sport and politics and we have to keep that separate.”