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Australian Open: Russian, Belarusian flags banned after courtside incident

Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Russian and Belarusian flags have been banned from the Australian Open, officials said Tuesday, a day after a Russian flag was seen courtside during a match between Russia's Kamilla Rakhimova and Ukraine's Kateryna Baindl.

Tennis Australia confirmed the ban to UPI in a statement.

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The announcement came a day after a fan hung the Russian flag near the court during the first-round match between Rakhimova and Baindl.

Video of the match posted online by the Australian Open shows the flag hanging from a tree during play.

Vasyl Myroshnychenko, the Ukrainian ambassador to Australia, took to Twitter to condemn the display of patriotism.

"I strongly condemn the public display of the Russian flag during the game of the Ukrainian tennis player Kateryna Baindl at the Australian Open today," he said in a statement. "I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its 'neutral flag' policy."

Several sporting bodies have moved to censure Russia and Belarus over Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion and ongoing war in Ukraine, including banning players from the two countries from competing.

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The Australian Open, however, said it would allow athletes from both countries to compete in the tournament but under neutral flags.

The tennis body told UPI that its initial policy was that fans could bring Russian and Belarusian flags into competition stadiums but could not use them to cause disruptions.

"Yesterday, we had an incident where a flag was placed courtside. The ban is effective immediately," Tennis Australia said.

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

The Russian Embassy in Australia retorted by calling the ban "another example of unacceptable politicization of sports."

The embassy accused the sports body of having already practiced discrimination against Russian athletes by imposing its neutral flag policy and that it went even further by banning visible support by fans.

"It is indeed regrettable to see the tournament organizers give in to overt and rather arrogant political manipulation sacrificing the spirit of fair play once inherent to the Australian open," it said in a statement.

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