Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has urged the tennis world and other sports to do more to support Ukrainian athletes in the midst of the ongoing war with Russia.
- Craig Tiley says speaking to Ukrainian players during the Australian Open convinced him they need more support amid the war with Russia
- The tournament director said financial assistance was given to Ukrainian players for the three weeks they were in Australia around the Open
- Tiley defended his call to ban Russian flags from Melbourne Park, after one was seen near court for a match between Russian and Ukrainian players
Tiley and organisers have been at the centre of controversy for introducing a ban on Russian flags at Melbourne Park, after flags were displayed during a match between Ukrainian and Russian players.
Before the start of the final day of the tournament, Tiley spoke to ABC Radio about the issues faced during the two-week event, including Russian flags, debate about late finishes and curfews.
The red, white and blue stripes of the Russian flag were visible in the crowd during the first-round match between Kateryna Baindl and Kamilla Rakhimova on day one of the tournament, prompting the ban.
“We’ve always been an event where we want our fans to come on site and have a good time, and we don’t want to be an event where you’ve got to wait for hours at the entry because you’ve got to be searched,” he said.
“But what we have been clear on from the beginning is that if you do something that’s disruptive to anyone else then we will take action against you or what you did.
“In this case, on Monday, there was a fan who placed a Russian flag right over the court where there was a Ukrainian player playing and we wanted to protect the Ukrainian player in that instance.
“It didn’t take long, we said ‘well, we gave you a chance, like we do with everything, we gave you an opportunity, we had confidence in good behaviour, you didn’t do it, so we banned the flags.”
“The thing I’ve come to realise year-on-year with this event is it has such a global significance, that it does become a platform for people to attempt to be disruptive or to make a [political] statement.”
Tiley said he was “almost certain” that the tournament — the first full event since 2020 — would draw a record crowd, and said that “nearly 100 per cent of people” had behaved well.
“I think we’ve done a magnificent job of not letting that happen and we have our challenges but that is expected when you have as many people as we have had come on the site this week.”
Asked what advice he would have for other tournaments, Tiley said there was no hard-and-fast rule, but that being more prohibitive could be counter-productive.
“For example with the world swimming championships, that we had here in Melbourne just before the Australian Open, didn’t ban Russian flags and [they] didn’t have an issue,” he said.
“Every event is different, when you talk about a Grand Slam [tournament] you’re talking about a really big major, global event, with a global audience.
“I do talk to the other tournament directors, and the advice I would give is that the more prohibitive you become, the more challenges you have and the more likelihood you have of people challenging it [bans] to breach them. And then you have issues.
“I would like the tennis world to support the Ukrainian athletes more, because I spend a lot of time with the Ukrainian athletes and I actually learned a lot about their situation as well,” he said.
“And the biggest thing is that no Ukrainian can go home. They’ve got no home to go to, so when they’re travelling around the world to play tennis, they just have to go to the next city to play tennis.
“And the other athletes, we can all go home — so I think we’ve got to all be more conscious of that and I would like the tennis world and maybe other sports, every week where there is a Ukrainian athlete, that tournament should support that athlete financially all the way through until the next week.
“I think that would be a really great thing for sport to do and I would be encouraging our sport to do it – we did it for the three weeks they were here.”
However, Tiley said he did not want to forget about Russian athletes in a time of war.
“We don’t support banning Russian athletes, they competed as individual competitors, but we do support them not being able to compete as part of a Russian team.
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“Then we need to be conscious that the Russian players are also struggling with this situation, they just happen to be from that country,” he said.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to are against the war, you saw Andrey Rublev had written on the camera lens “No war” [at a tournament in Dubai].
“They all have family back in Russia so it’s always dangerous for them to come out, and they have, and be outspoken against the war, because I’m sure it puts their families at risk as well, so their mental health and wellbeing also needs to be monitored.
“Because at the end of the day, they are just out here competing as tennis players, and they haven’t been any part of this terrible situation.”
No decision on Djokovic father attending final
Tiley said it was still unknown whether Novak Djokovic’s father Srdjan would be courtside for the men’s singles final between his son and Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Djokovic was filmed during the tournament standing next to fans who were holding a banned Russian flag that was superimposed with Vladimir Putin’s face.
He did not attend Melbourne Park for his son’s semifinal on Friday against Tommy Paul.
“It’s still early to say [regarding Srdjan Djokovic at the final], we’re still talking with the families, and again we make the assessment, based on what’s in the best interest from the safety and security point of view,” Tiley said.
Asked if Djokovic’s father was welcome for the final, Tiley replied:
“He hasn’t breached any event policy and so from our perspective that’s going to be up to him and that’s his decision.
“But obviously we’re at the final stage of the tournament, we have a lot of active fans on-site, we’re just reminding fans if you come in on-site, like those individuals did with the Russian flag, if you come in on-site to be disruptive, you’re not welcome and we will remove you.”
Some players have called for a curfew on play at the Australian Open, after Andy Murray defeated Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis after 4am AEDT, following a match that went 5 hours 45 minutes.
Tiley said organisers were willing to consider a curfew, but said that could be unfair to players who had made a comeback, had the momentum in their matches but then had to return the following day.