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BACKHAND BACKLASH

Kosovo Olympic Committee demands IOC action against Djokovic over ‘nationalist’ statement

Kosovo Olympic Committee demands IOC action against Djokovic over ‘nationalist’ statement
Novak Djokovic of Serbia prepares to serve to Aleksandar Kovacevic of the US in their men's singles first round match during the French Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, on 29 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Yoan Valat)

Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic has again courted controversy after making a political statement at the French Open after his first-round win.

Kosovo Olympic authorities have asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to open disciplinary proceedings against Novak Djokovic, accusing the Serbian of stirring up political tension by saying “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” at the French Open.

Djokovic wrote the message on a camera lens following his first-round win on Monday, the same day that 30 Nato peacekeeping troops were hurt in clashes with Serb protesters in the Kosovo town of Zvecan — where Djokovic’s father grew up.

Serbian authorities said 52 protesters were wounded in the clashes. The violence erupted after ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo’s Serb-majority area following elections that were boycotted by the Serbs.

The world No 3 later said he was against any kind of conflict but defended his statement and described Kosovo’s situation as a “precedent”.

 “Novak Djokovic has yet again promoted the Serbian nationalists’ propaganda and used the sport platform to do so,” Ismet Krasniqi, president of Kosovo’s Olympic Committee (KOK), said in a statement.

“The further post-match statements made by such a public figure without any feeling of remorse, directly result in raising the level of tension and violence between the two countries,” he added, urging the IOC to investigate “by opening disciplinary proceedings against the athlete.”

France’s Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, whose country will host the summer Olympics in Paris next year, said Djokovic’s message was “not appropriate, clearly”.

“There is a principle of neutrality for the field of play. When you carry messages about defending human rights, messages that bring people together around universal values, a sports person is free to express them,” she told French television.

“But in this case, it was a message that is very activist, that is very political. You shouldn’t get involved, especially in the current circumstances, and it shouldn’t happen again.”

The IOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Tuesday, Kosovo’s tennis federation said Djokovic’s comments were “regrettable”, accusing him of using his status as a well-known personality to stir tensions.

Nato, which has some 4,000 soldiers currently in Kosovo, will send 700 extra troops to curb violence and put another battalion on high alert as unrest has intensified.

Djokovic, who is chasing a record 23rd Grand Slam title, is set to play his second-round match later on Wednesday against Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics. Reuters/DM

 

 

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