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Police question Australian Open fans over Putin flag

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Four Australian Open spectators, including a man holding a Russian flag with Vladimir Putin’s face on it, are being questioned by Victoria Police after allegedly threatening security at Melbourne Park.

A group of fans on Wednesday night gathered on the stairs outside Rod Laver Arena and Margaret Court Arena and recited pro-Russia chants, with several either holding or wearing various Russian flags.

The fans chanted “Russia, Serbia” after star Serb Novak Djokovic defeated Russian Andrey Rublev in straight sets.

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Among them was the man who held up the flag featuring Russian president Putin, while wearing a T-shirt bearing the pro-war in Ukraine ‘Z’ symbol.

A different man had earlier been pictured with a Z symbol T-shirt inside Rod Laver Arena during the match.

Past and present Russian flags, the Russian Eagle flag, Belarusian flags and items of clothing with the Z symbol are prohibited items at Melbourne Park.

“Four people in the crowd leaving the stadium revealed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards,” a Tennis Australia spokesperson said.

“Victoria Police intervened and are continuing to question them.

“The comfort and safety of everyone is our priority and we work closely with security and authorities.”

TA had initially permitted spectators to bring Russian and Belarusian banners to Melbourne Park, as long as they did not cause disruption.

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But the policy was reversed last Tuesday morning after a Russian flag was prominently displayed courtside during a match involving Ukrainian player Kateryna Baindl.

That rule has been flouted on multiple occasions but Wednesday night’s incident was clearly the most blatant.

Russian and Belarusian players, like Russians Rublev and Karen Khachanov and star Belarusians Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka, are allowed to compete in Melbourne, but must do so under a neutral banner.

They were banned by the All England club from participating at Wimbledon last year in reaction to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Russia is Belarus’ largest and most important economic and political partner.

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