French sports minister lashes out at Djokovic's stance on Kosovo at French Open

By Paul Myers - RFI
Europe AP - Jean-Francois Badias
MAY 31, 2023 LISTEN
AP - Jean-Francois Badias

France's sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra on Wednesday hit out at tennis legend Novak Djokovic for a post-match mesage saying that Kosovo was at the heart of Serbia.

Djokovic, 36, wrote the comment on a TV camera following his first round victory at the French Open in Paris as clashes were taking place between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the territory.

Kosovo, which is mostly populated by Muslim ethnic Albanians, broke away from the then-Yugoslavia in the late 1990s and declared independence in 2008, in a move that has never been accepted by neighbouring Christian-majority Serbia or its ally Russia.

Oudéa-Castéra told the French broadcaster France 2 that Djokovic's message was not appropriate.

 "There's 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 sportsperson is free to express them.

"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," added Oudéa-Castéra, who is the former head of the French tennis federation.

She said that Amélie Mauresmo,  the tournament director, had spoken to Djokovic and his entourage.

Thirty peacekeepers from a Nato-led force in Kosovo were injured in clashes with ethnic Serb demonstrators on Monday during protests about the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors in northern Kosovo.

The European Union and other western countries have called for calm.

Djokovic, ranked number three in the world, defended his message at lenght in a post-match press conference.

"Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, centre of the most important things for our country.

 "Of course it hurts me very much as a Serb to see what is happening in Kosovo and the way our people have been practically expelled from the municipal offices, so the least I could do was this," added Djokovic, whose father was born in Kosovo.

Oudéa-Castéra made a distinction for messages in support of Ukraine adding that she did not put Kosovo and Ukraine "on the same level.

"What's happening for Ukrainians on the circuit is so painful, so difficult," she said.

Djokovic is seeking a record-setting 23rd Grand Slam in Paris and is set to play Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in the second round on Wednesday evening.

The ethics charter of Roland Garros forbids any expression of political or religious views.

However, it is understood that tournament chiefs will not take any action against Djokovic.