‘Neutral Flag’ Policy threatens Australia’s sporting reputation

In Attractions, Australian Cultural Exports, Business Resources, Featured Home Page News, Government, Media and Communications, Momentum, Victoria

MELBOURNE: Tennis Australia have banned Russian flags during the 2023 Australian Open in an overt political move that damages the reputation of the tournament and questions the impartiality of the host country.

International sport enjoys a revered place well above politics in not just Australian culture, but most cultures in the world.

The red flag for the Governance and Regulatory teams at Tennis Australia should be that the organisation is only enforcing its ‘neutral flag policy’ after a complaint from the Ukraine ambassador.

If Tennis Australia wants to take political positions, the organisation needs their policy on political situations to be crafted and each case vetted like any other regulation. During the policy-crafting process, Tennis Australia may quickly find that international politics is pretty tricky and that distractions drain resources. Any sportsperson knows that.

The alternative – waiting until a complaint is made – is an unfair disadvantage and distraction for the Russian player. All players deserve to see the support in the stands for their hard-won career as much as any other player does. If the Russian player won the tournament, would they not deserve as much praise? Because that’s the implication – that the citizens of countries involved in conflicts – yes in this case as the clear aggressor, but most instances are not as black and white – do not deserve to have pride in the country they are representing, for better or worse.

Other international sporting bodies have gotten political over Ukraine but as ever, that’s not a justification. Said every mother ever: “Just because they jump off a bridge, does that mean you should too?” A policy to remain apolitical takes real strength these days. Consistency and stability despite tough calls and high seas is respected above all, especially in sport.

Pride in one’s origin is a key element of sport, so being disallowed that pride is a disdvantage. The opposite of pride is shame, and no-one can perform at their best experiencing shame.

A side effect of Tennis Australia’s political action is the further division of cultures across the world. Sporting competition, art and food – key aspects of tourism – have always been the few things that bridge cultural divides – when there is fair play.

Tennis Australia has a responsibility to maintain neutrality to oversee fair play, and nothing is fair when any player is treated differently to any other.

Veronica Hope

Editor – The Tourism News

Russian flags banned at Australian Open tennis after Ukraine complaint

Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 16, 2023 General view of the first round match between Germany’s Jule Niemeier and Poland’s Iga Swiatek REUTERS/Carl Recine

MELBOURNE, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Russian and Belarusian flags have been banned from the Melbourne Park precinct during the Australian Open after a complaint from the Ukraine ambassador to the country.

Vasyl Myroshnychenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, posted a picture showing a Russian flag hanging from a bush beside the court where his compatriot Kateryna Baindl was playing her first-round match on Monday.

“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 wrote on Twitter.

“I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its ‘neutral flag’ policy.”

Tennis Australia responded on Tuesday by banning the flags of the two countries.

“Flags from Russia and Belarus are banned onsite at the Australian Open,” Tennis Australia said in a statement.

“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.”

Belarus is being used as a key staging ground for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow terms a “special operation”.

Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon last year but are able to compete as individual athletes without national affiliation at the Australian Open.

Their flags are not displayed beside their names in TV broadcasts, as is the case for other players, and their nation is not indicated on draw sheets.

Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka said she understood how the display of the flags of the two countries might upset Ukrainian players.

“I really thought that sport is nothing to do with politics but if everyone feels better this way, then it’s okay,” the fifth seed told reporters after her first-round win on Tuesday.

“If Tennis Australia made this decision to make them feel better, okay. They did it, what can I do? I can do nothing.”

Ukraine’s number two Marta Kostyuk told Reuters on Monday that she would not shake hands with tour rivals from Russia and Belarus who she feels have not done enough to speak out against the invasion.

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