French Sports Minister, Amelie Oudea-Castera, voiced her disapproval of Novak Djokovic’s political statement on Kosovo at the French Open, terming it “inappropriate” and something that “must not be repeated”. She stressed the necessity of maintaining “an atmosphere of neutrality on the playing field”.
Djokovic, a Serbian, inscribed “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a camera lens. This act was in relation to the current unrest in Kosovo, which has been an independent nation since 2008, following its secession from Serbia.
In recent times, the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors in the country’s northern region has led to clashes between Serb demonstrators, local police, and NATO troops. Serbia has always declined to recognize Kosovo’s independence.
The International Tennis Federation, the sport’s global authority, has stated that Djokovic’s comment didn’t breach any regulations since the Grand Slam rulebook doesn’t prohibit political expressions.
Oudea-Castera spoke with France 2, a French broadcaster, and said, “A sportsperson has the freedom to convey messages that promote human rights and foster unity around common values. However, the message in this case was overtly activist and political. Under current circumstances, such involvement isn’t advisable, and it must not be repeated.”
She drew a line between Djokovic’s comments and messages of support for Ukraine during the Russian invasion, stating that the two situations aren’t “equivalent”.
She expressed her support for Marta Kostyuk, the Ukrainian player who faced disapproval from the crowd when she declined to extend a handshake to Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Belarus is Russia’s ally and permitted its troops to use its land to initiate last year’s Ukraine invasion.
“What Ukrainians are experiencing in the circuit is agonizing, extremely challenging,” Oudea-Castera said. “Kostyuk’s decision not to shake hands is understandable, despite the desire for sportsmanship to prevail, including handshaking. However, I respect her pain.”
Elina Svitolina, a Ukrainian who has regularly criticized the tennis community’s response to the Russian incursion, argued that Djokovic had the right to express his perspective.
“We live in a free world, so everyone should be allowed to voice their opinion,” Svitolina stated after her second-round victory over Storm Hunter.
Following his victory in the first round against Aleksandar Kovacevic, Djokovic defended his statement. He explained to Serbian reporters that despite being averse to “wars, violence and any form of conflict”, he believes that the Kosovo situation is a “precedent in international law”.
Being the son of a man born in Kosovo, he felt obligated to show solidarity with his people and Serbia as a whole. “Kosovo is our heartland, our bastion, the hub of all that’s crucial for our nation,” Djokovic expressed. “I penned that message on the camera for numerous reasons. The sight of what’s transpiring in Kosovo and the ousting of our people from municipal offices pains me deeply as a Serb. Therefore, I felt compelled to do at least this much.”