Novak Djokovic defiantly insisted on Wednesday “it’s something I stand for” regarding the controversy over his explosive comments about Kosovo earlier this week at the French Open.
On Monday, the 22-time Grand Slam champion wrote “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a TV camera after his first match at Roland Garros.
“I would say it again, but I don’t need to because you have my quotes,” he said after making the third round on Wednesday with a straights sets win over Marton Fucsovics.
“I’m aware that a lot of people would disagree, but it is what it is. It’s something that I stand for. So that’s all.” Djokovic had defended his message in comments to Serb media, saying that Kosovo is Serbia’s “cradle, our stronghold”.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF), the governing body of the sport, said they had received a request from the Kosovo Tennis Federation demanding Djokovic be sanctioned over his actions.
However, they pointed out that such statements do not contravene regulations. “Rules for player conduct at a Grand Slam event are governed by the Grand Slam rulebook, administered by the relevant organizer and regulator. There is no provision in this that prohibits political statements,” said an ITF spokesman.
Djokovic was criticised for his comments about recent clashes in Kosovo by French sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera who said he “shouldn’t get involved”.
Oudea-Castera told broadcaster France 2 that Djokovic’s message was “not appropriate, clearly”. “It was a message that is very activist, that is very political.”
The Kosovo Olympic Committee (KOC) accused Djokovic of “stirring up” political tensions, said a spokesman. Djokovic “breached the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter regarding political neutrality and involved yet another political statement in sports”, the KOC wrote in a letter sent to the IOC on Tuesday.
KOC head Ismet Krasniqi sought that the IOC initiates disciplinary proceedings against Djokovic, said the letter posted on its Facebook.
Such “behaviour cannot be tolerated as it sets a dangerous precedent that sports can be used as a platform for political messages, agendas and propaganda”, the letter quoted Krasniqi as saying.
Ukrainian player Elina Svitolina said Djokovic should be free to “say his opinion”. Svitolina, who has repeatedly spoken out over tennis’ response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, believes players should be able to talk publicly about political issues.
“We are living in the free world, so why not say your opinion on something?,” said Svitolina.
“I feel like if you stand for something, you think that this is the way, you should say. “I mean, if you are with a friend sitting, talking, you’re going to say your opinion, he is going to say his opinion. So why not?”
Thirty peacekeepers from a NATO-led force in Kosovo were injured in clashes with ethnic Serb demonstrators on Monday during protests about the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors in northern Kosovo.
Kosovo, mostly populated by Muslim ethnic Albanians, broke away from the then-Yugoslavia in the late 1990s and declared independence in 2008, in a move that has never been accepted by neighboring Christian-majority Serbia or its ally Russia.