Novak Djokovic free to make Kosovo comments at Wimbledon

Novak Djokovic facing official complaint for repeated attacks' on Kosovo - Getty Images/Emmanuel Dunand
Novak Djokovic facing official complaint for repeated attacks' on Kosovo - Getty Images/Emmanuel Dunand

Novak Djokovic will be free to make controversial comments about Kosovo’s independence at Wimbledon, after escaping sanctions for similar statements at Roland Garros.

On Tuesday, the Kosovo Tennis Federation accused Djokovic of risking “inflaming” tensions in the northern region of the country and called for him to be fined for appearing to deny their country’s sovereignty. It came a day after the 22-time major champion wrote, “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop violence” on the camera lens after his first round win in Paris.

But the French Tennis Federation (FFT) have no plans to sanction 22-time major champion Djokovic over the comments, as he is not believed to have broken any rules.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the FFT also confirmed that “the same rules apply to all four Grand Slams”, referring to the International Tennis Federation player rulebook for major events. It means that reigning champion Djokovic would be allowed to make a similar statement at SW19 next month if he so wishes.

“Occasionally, discussions about international news events enter the realm of the tournament, which is understandable,” the FFT statement read. “We regularly discuss the matter on the Grand Slam Board, where the four Grand Slam tournaments are represented.

“The same rules apply to all four Grand Slams. The tournament referee and Grand Slam Supervisors ensure that these rules are complied with. Messages are passed on to the teams of any players concerned by such matters.”

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and is recognised by 100 countries as well as most major sporting bodies – including the ITF. However Serbia has never formally accepted the breakaway, and in recent weeks there have been increased tensions in the northern region of the country, with dozens of Nato peacekeepers injured on Monday after clashes with local Serbs.

The Kosovo Tennis Federation (FTK) has accused Djokovic – whose father was born in Kosovo – of “provoking” the country with his nationalist statement. FTK president Jeton Hadërgjonaj said on Tuesday that he intends to make a formal complaint to the ITF, ATP and FFT condemning Djokovic’s “attack”.

“It’s not the first time that Djokovic is doing this, he’s continually provoking Kosovo,” Hadergjonaj told the Press Association on Tuesday. “He suggested he has roots from Kosovo because his father was born in Kosovo. It’s understandable he’s connected with that part. But Kosovo is an independent country recognised by the ITF, Tennis Europe and the international community.

“According to the Olympics charter, the fundamental principle is that sporting organisations within the Olympic movement should apply political neutrality. The ITF is recognised by the International Olympic Committee. We have to react. Tomorrow [Wednesday] we will send an official request for Djokovic to be charged, to have a fine.”

Hadërgjonaj added that Djokovic’s words may aggravate the tense situation due to his huge influence in the affected region: “Potentially it will inflame it. For such a public figure, in this big event and (amid) this Ukraine-Russia war, to give this kind of message is really not helpful. We strongly recommend to our athletes to work for peace. To do this kind of declaration from Djokovic I think is not clever.”

If the All England Club wants to avoid an ugly row of this kind, they do have the power to breakaway from the other Grand Slams and implement a rule specifically for Wimbledon – as they did when they banned Russian and Belarusian players from competing last year due to the invasion of Ukraine.

That move proved disastrous though, as it prompted fines from the WTA and ATP, and the AELTC felt compelled to roll back on it for this year’s event.

A general ban on political statements may not land well with players either, especially considering the many examples of similar instances in recent years.

It was only in January at the Australian Open that Russian player Karen Khachanov, who has Armenian roots, wrote a message of support for the Republic of Artsakh on a TV camera lens, prompting the Azerbaijan Tennis Federation to call on the tennis authorities to take action.

Djokovic has previously spoken in support of Serbia’s claim over Kosovo and, on Monday, doubled down on his camera message, saying he “would do it again” regardless of the consequences.

“I feel the need to show support to all of Serbia,” he added. “I am very sorry that we are in the situation we are in. Kosovo is our hearth, our stronghold, the biggest battle took place there, the most important monasteries are located there... There are many reasons, and especially because it is the truth.”

Posting to Twitter on Monday night, the former Foreign Minister for Kosovo, Petrit Selimi, compared Djokovic’s “nationalist” stance to a Russian player supporting Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“So if a Russian player tomorrow writes “Crimea and Donbas are heart of Russia. Stop violence” it’s all cool?” Selimi said. “Djokovic has a history of support for Serbian nationalist causes.”

Djokovic plays his second round match on Wednesday against Hungary’s Márton Fucsovics.