Kosovo’s Olympic authorities have asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to open disciplinary proceedings against Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, accusing him of stirring up political tension at the French Open.
The 36-year-old scrawled “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a camera lens after his first-round match at Roland Garros on Monday, and later defended himself, saying, “Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, centre of the most important things for our country”.
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He was accused of promoting “Serbian nationalists’ propaganda” by the Kosovo Olympic Committee (KOK) on Wednesday.
“Novak Djokovic has yet again promoted the Serbian nationalists’ propaganda and used the sport platform to do so,” KOK President Ismet Krasniqi wrote in a letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach.
The letter accused Djokovic of violating principles of sport and the Olympic Charter on “political neutrality”.
“The further post-match statements, made by such a public figure without any feeling of remorse, directly result in raising the level of tension and violence between the two countries, Serbia and Kosovo,” the Kosovan statement said.
KOK’s Krasniqi said Djokovic’s messages and actions were “dangerous for the future of sport if unpunished”.
@NOCKOSOVO has reacted today to the @Olympics & @ITFTennis,regarding the incident of the Serbian 🎾 player, Novak Djokovic, who once again promoted the Serbian nationalists propaganda "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia, stop violence".We truly hope that the IOC will raise its voice. pic.twitter.com/71qqCvBdiC
— NOC KOSOVO 🥇🥇🥇 (@NOCKOSOVO) May 30, 2023
Kosovo is a mainly ethnic Albanian-populated territory that was formerly a province of Serbia.
It declared independence in 2008 which has been recognised by about 100 countries, except for Serbia, Russia, China and five other European Union nations.
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.
NATO’s spokesperson issued a statement condemning the attack and “called on all sides to refrain from actions that further inflame tensions, and to engage in dialogue”.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said 52 Serbs were injured as Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani accused Vucic of trying to destabilise the self-declared republic.
Djokovic was also criticised by France’s Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera, who told broadcaster France 2 that the 22-time Grand Slam winner’s message was “not appropriate, clearly”.
“There’s a principle of neutrality for the field of play. When you carry messages about defending human rights, messages that bring peoples 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 Oudea-Castera, who is the former head of the French tennis federation.
She added that the director of Roland Garros had spoken to Djokovic and his entourage.
Speaking to Serbian media, Djokovic highlighted that he is not a politician, nor does he intend to enter into debates.
The world number three defended his comments and told reporters in Serbian that what he wrote on the TV camera was “the least I could do”.
“I feel responsibility as a public figure … as well as a son of a man who was born in Kosovo,” Djokovic said.
“Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, centre of the most important things for our country … There are many reasons why I wrote that on the camera,” he told Serb media at the tournament.
“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.