Novak Djokovic’s Kosovo comments: What did the tennis star say at the French Open?

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Novak Djokovic has once again been at the centre of a controversy at a tennis Grand Slam following his anti-Kosovo message at the French Open this week. 

The 22-time Grand Slam champion and world No 3 is looking to become the most successful male player in the sport’s history over the next fortnight, currently level with French Open titan Rafael Nadal. 

However, the Serb has again made headlines for non-tennis reasons, having been warned by French minister Amelie Oudea-Castera to ‘not get involved’ in political issues throughout the tournament, while French Open chief Amelie Mauresmo has spoken to his team to emphasise the principle of political neutrality on the tour.

Kosovo’s head of Olympic Committee, meanwhile, has insisted Djokovic ‘promoted nationalist propaganda and used his sporting platform to do so’. Djokovic will not be sanctioned for his comments, though, and the International Tennis Federation has not opened a disciplinary case. 

Djokovic has also since stood by his comments, insisting he would say them again. But what exactly was it that Djokovic said? And why?  

Novak Djokovic has received backlash following his anti-Kosovo message at the French Open

Novak Djokovic has received backlash following his anti-Kosovo message at the French Open

What was Djokovic’s message?

Djokovic made his statement on Monday, following his first-round victory over Aleksandar Kovacevic, a comfortable straight-sets win. 

The 36-year-old scribbled a message on an courtside camera lens, which read: ‘Kosovo is the heart of Serbia! Stop the violence’.

He also clearly took exception to the Kovacevic-favouring crowd, who had controversially booed Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk on Sunday, putting his finger to his ear provocatively after breaking the serve of the 24-year-old, who has Serbian descent.

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Speaking later, Djokovic then told Serbian media: ‘I am not a politician, nor do I intend to enter into debates. As a Serb, it hurts me what is happening in Kosovo. Our people have been expelled from the municipalities. This is the least I could do. As a public figure, I feel an obligation to show support for our people and all of Serbia.’

He added: ‘I hear there was a lot of criticism on social media. I don’t know if someone will punish me or something like that, but I would do it again. I am against wars and conflicts of any kind.

‘Kosovo is our heart, stronghold, the centre of the most important events, the biggest battle took place there, the most monasteries. There are many reasons why I wrote this.’

The World No 3 scrawled a message on a camera after his first round win at the French Open

The World No 3 scrawled a message on a camera after his first round win at the French Open

The message read ‘Kosovo is the heart of Serbia! Stop the violence' following increased tension in the Kosovo

The message read ‘Kosovo is the heart of Serbia! Stop the violence’ following increased tension in the Kosovo

Why did Djokovic make the comment?

It was not the first time Djokovic had made this statement, having shared the same sentiment during an interview with Italian outlet Corriere de la Sera earlier in the month.

He then outlined his desire to return to Kosavo, where his father is from. ‘No vax, no entry’ was the message from Kosovo’s culture minister on Twitter.

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Djokovic’s statement is a nod to how his native Serbia has never formally accepted Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, despite being recognised by 100 countries and the ITF. 

It has come during a time of increased tension, violence and rioting in Kosovo, with NATO troops and police clashing with Serbain protesters, after ethnic Albanian officials – who were elected in votes overwhelmingly boycotted by Serbs – entered municipal buildings to take office. 

When Serbs tried to block them, Kosovo police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. Serbia later put the country’s military on the highest state of alert and sent more troops to the border with Kosovo.

NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers have clashed with local Kosovo Serb protesters at the entrance of the municipality office, in the town of Zvecan, Kosovo

NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers have clashed with local Kosovo Serb protesters at the entrance of the municipality office, in the town of Zvecan, Kosovo

What has the reaction been?

As stated, Djokovic has not been sanctioned following his comments. The French Tennis Federation issued a statement on Tuesday, though, without naming Djokovic specifically.

The statement read: ‘The same rules apply to all four Grand Slams. The tournament referee and Grand Slam Supervisors ensure that these rules are complied with. Messages are passed on to the teams of any players concerned by such matters.’

Meanwhile, Ukrainian player Elena Svitolina, who called for all Russians and Belarussians to be banned from the tour, believes Djokovic was free to speak his mind.

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‘We are living in the free world, so why not say your opinion,’ she said. ‘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?’

French minister Amelie Oudea-Castera didn’t share the same opinion, telling French TV: ‘This message is very activist, very political. You shouldn’t get involved, especially in the current circumstances, and it shouldn’t happen again.’ 

And Kosovo’s head of Olympic Committee, Ismet Krasniqi, insists: ‘The statements made without any remorse directly resulted in raising the level of tension and violence between the nations.’ 

The French Tennis Federation suggested they will remind him about Grand Slam regulations

The French Tennis Federation suggested they will remind him about Grand Slam regulations 

What has Djokovic said since?

Djokovic has since insisted he stands by the comments he has made. 

The Serb again claimed a comfortable straight-sets victory as he defeated Marton Fucsovics in the second round, and again the topic was approached.   

‘I would say it again, but I don’t need to because you have my quotes if you want to reflect on that,’ Djokovic said. ‘Of course 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.

‘You know, drama-free Grand Slam, I don’t think it can happen for me. You know, I guess that drives me, as well.’

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