Novak Djokovic’s father has been filmed posing with supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Australian Open, and appearing to say “long live the Russians.”
Srdjan Djokovic, 62, stood outside Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena next to a man holding a flag with Putin’s face on it and wearing a T-shirt with the Z symbol, which has become an emblem of Putin’s regime and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
In a video shared widely on social media, the man standing next to Djokovic Sr. sent his greetings to Alexander Zaldostanov, the leader of the Night Wolves, a motorcycle gang with a history of supporting Putin, “from Melbourne, Australia to our brothers in Moscow”.
Srdjan Djokovic, a Serb born in what is now Kosovo, seems to have responded: “Long live the Russians.”
Zaldostanov is believed to be friends with Putin. The Night Wolves were sanctioned by the EU last year, but the group said the move had “no meaning”.
The organisers of the Australian Open have “briefed and reminded” everyone participating in the tournament about the importance of avoiding inflammatory flags and symbols in response to Wednesday night’s incident.
Tennis Australia said in a statement: “Players and their teams have been briefed and reminded of the event policy regarding flags and symbols and to avoid any situation that has the potential to disrupt. We continue to work closely with event security and law enforcement agencies.”
The incident happened after Russian flags were banned from the tournament after spectators waved them during a match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova.
Simeon Boikov, a YouTuber who runs the “Aussie Cossack” account which carried the original footage, called on people to push back on the rules before the match.
“Today Djokovic plays Andrey Rublev. I hereby appeal or instruct everyone to get down there. I can confirm that we’ve got some surprises,” Boikov said.
He added: “This is about honour and dignity now. This is an attack on honour and dignity. This has got nothing to do with the war. This is an attack on freedom in Australia. This is discrimination. This is racism. It’s illegal to ban people’s flags.”
Boikov has been accused of assaulting a 76-year-old man at a pro-Ukraine rally in Sydney, and an arrest warrant has been issued against him.
Novak Djokovic’s appearance at the 2022 Australian Open was marred by a row over his vaccination status. He was initially denied entry to Australia as he refused to reveal his vaccination status. He appealed the decision but it was struck down by three federal court judges.
He is the favourite to win the 2023 Australian Open.
VICE World News has contacted Novak Djokovic’s team for comment.
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