Multiple Australian Open spectators have been questioned by Victoria police after they unveiled flags in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and then threatened guards after the men’s quarterfinal between Russia’s Andrey Rublev and Novak Djokovic.
During the match, which ended with Djokovic comfortably beating Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, a spectator took off one of his shirts to reveal a black T-shirt underneath with a “Z” on it . Russian troops have used the letter “Z” as an identification symbol on their vehicles in Ukraine after the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”. Invasion supporters have also used the board. Although the guards were depicted speaking to the spectator, he appeared to remain in his seat until the end of the game.
After the game, fans had gathered on steps outside the Rod Laver Arena. As some began to leave, a small group of people stood on steps below the arena and unfurled Russian flags, including a Russian flag with a large image of Vladimir Putin’s face, as she chanted in support of Russia. Another man wore a black hoodie with a ‘Z’ that refers to the Russian war symbol.
According to Tennis Australia, four men have been questioned by Victoria Police after threatening security guards.
“Four people in the crowd leaving the stadium unveiled inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards,” said a statement from Tennis Australia. “Victoria police intervened and are continuing to question them. Everyone’s comfort and safety is our priority and we are working closely with security and authorities.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an ongoing issue at the Australian Open, where Russian and Belarusian players compete under a neutral flag. During the first round match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova on January 16, spectators displayed a Russian flag in the audience.
At the start of the tournament, spectators were allowed to bring all flags, but after the incident, the organizers reversed the decision and banned all Russian flags, Russian Imperial flags and items with the symbol “Z”. There are security guards at some entrances to the grounds are provided with leaflets with a growing list of various banned Russian flags.
Meanwhile, Wimbledon faced further calls to reverse their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players. Wimbledon is expected to meet in the coming months to decide whether to lift the suspension for Russian players for this year’s tournament.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Billie Jean King said she thinks Russian and Belarusian players should be able to compete and players should get ranking points at Wimbledon: “Just let them play and get their money,” she said.
“The last information I heard was maybe a week ago that the announcement will be in a few weeks. We’re all waiting. Hopefully we can play. I would like, I would like and I would like to play,” Rublev said on Wednesday.