Australian Open white flag: Why are players playing under it?

Author Photo
Aryna Sabalenka Australian Open 2023 012623
Getty Images

The Australian Open is at the final stage as athletes from all over the world vie to take out one of tennis’ most coveted titles. 

But being a worldwide event means that the Open must navigate international politics, and this year there is no issue more pressing than the continued Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

This is not the first time that this conflict has influenced the tennis world; Wimbledon famously banned Russian and Belarusian players from competing in 2022, including Danill Medvedev, who was at the time the world No. 1.

While the Australian Open has not gone to these lengths, it has designated that certain players be required to play under a white flag, rather than the flag of their nation. 

Why are athletes competing under a white flag?

The Australian Open has said that while there will be no restrictions on Russian and Belarusian tennis players competing, they will be unable to compete under the flag or name of their countries, including on their clothes and on the broadcast. 

“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 said via a statement.

“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.

“The governing bodies of tennis issued a statement in March 2022 expressing shock, distress and sadness, along with a pledge to provide ongoing support for the people of Ukraine.”

MORE: Who is the world No.1 in men's tennis?Who is the world No. 1 in women's tennis?

Which athletes are affected?

This decision affects a number of high-level players, including top 20 men's players Andrey Rublev, Daniil Medvedev, and Karen Khachanov, and top 20 women's players Aryna Sabalenka, Daria Kasatkina, Veronika Kudermetova, Liudmila Samsonova and Ekaterina Alexandrova.

What has been the reaction? 

As could be anticipated, Russian tennis fans have not been pleased with this decision, and have been insistent on displaying their flag where they can, which has drawn the ire of many including the Ukrainian ambassador. 

On day one of the Open, viewers noticed a Russian flag hanging in the background of a match between Ukrainian Kateryna Baindl and Russian Kamilla Rakhimova, which was promptly slammed. 

This reaction caused Tennis Australia to issue a blanket ban on all Russian and Belarusian flags. 

"Flags from Russia and Belarus are banned onsite at the Australian Open," Tennis Australia said via a statement.

"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 will be effective immediately.

"We will continue to work with the players and our fans to ensure that this is the best possible environment to enjoy the tennis."

Author(s)
Author Photo
Jed is a social media producer for The Sporting News Australia.
LATEST VIDEOS