Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia has called on tennis officials to take action after a Russian flag appeared in the crowd at the Australian Open.
The flag was spotted as Ukrainian Kateryna Baindl took on Kamilla Rakhimova on the first day of the tournament on Monday.
Rakhimova is from Russia but cannot compete under her flag or country’s name due to the nation’s invasion of Ukraine.
Players from Russia and Belarus are only allowed to compete at Melbourne Park as “neutral” players.
Baindl won 7-5 6-7 6-1, knocking Rakhimova out of the tournament.
“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,” Vasyl Myroshnychenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, wrote in a tweet.
“I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its ‘neutral flag’ policy.”
Other social media users also expressed outrage, calling the spectator’s act “disgusting”.
“Shame on Tennis Australia for allowing this,” wrote one.
“Complete provocation. Tennis Australia wriggled and squirmed when it came to Djokovic yet not one official near this court saw fit to do anything,” added another.
“Come on Australia what’s going on?” asked a third.
Some questioned whether the rules around not displaying Russia’s flag only applied to players, or spectators too.
On Tuesday, Tennis Australia confirmed to news.com.au it had banned spectators from bringing Russian flags into Melbourne Park, but this had not been the initial policy.
“Flags from Russia and Belarus are banned onsite at the Australian Open,” the statement said.
“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.”
In addition to Rakhimova, several top players are not able to play under their flag this year, including Russia’s Daniil Medvedev and Daria Kasatkina, and Belarusian duo World No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.
In a statement on the matter Tennis Australia said: “Players from Russia and Belarus are only able to compete in international tennis events as individuals – and without flags or country recognition – which will be the case for Australian Open 2023.
“Tennis Australia stands united with the international governing bodies of tennis – the grand slams, the ATP and WTA Tours and the ITF – in its condemnation of Russia’s actions and its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”
Mr Myroshnychenko had previously called for Tennis Australia to ban Russian players from competing down under.
Wimbledon banned players from Russia and Belarus last year and in response, ATP and WTA penalised the Grand Slam tournament by stripping its ranking points. It meant players who excelled at the event last year were not given a ranking boost.