Australian Open spectators supporting Russian invasion questioned by police

<span>Photograph: Lukas Coch/EPA</span>
Photograph: Lukas Coch/EPA

Multiple Australian Open spectators have been questioned by Victoria police after they unveiled flags in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and then threatened security guards following the men’s quarter-final match between Andrey Rublev of Russia and Novak Djokovic.

During the match, which ended with Djokovic comfortably defeating Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, a spectator removed one of his shirts to reveal a black T-shirt underneath with a “Z” on it. Russian forces have used the letter “Z” as an identifying symbol on their vehicles in Ukraine after the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”. Supporters of the invasion have also used the sign. Although security were pictured speaking to the spectator, he appeared to remain in his seat until the conclusion of the match.

Related: Novak Djokovic crushes Rublev in style to reach Australian Open semi-finals

After the match, fans had congregated on stairs outside of Rod Laver Arena. As some began to leave, a small group of people stood on steps underneath the arena and unfurled Russian flags, including one Russian flag with a large picture of Vladimir Putin’s face, while chanting in support of Russia. Another man wore a black hoodie with a “Z” referencing Russia’s symbol of war.

According to Tennis Australia, four men were questioned by Victoria Police after they threatened security guards.

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

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been an ongoing issue at the Australian Open, where Russian and Belarusian players are competing under a neutral flag. During the first-round match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova on 16 January, spectators displayed a Russian flag in the crowd.

At the beginning of the tournament, spectators had been allowed to bring all flags in, but after the incident organisers reversed the decision and banned all Russian flags, Russian imperial flags and items with the symbol “Z”. At some of the entrances of the grounds, security guards have been provided with pamphlets with a growing list of various prohibited Russian flags.

Meanwhile, Wimbledon have faced further calls to reverse their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players. Wimbledon are expected to convene in the coming months in order to decide on whether to lift their ban on Russian players for this year’s tournament.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Billie Jean King said she believes Russian and Belarusian players should be able to compete and players should receive ranking points at Wimbledon: “Just have them play and get their money,” she said.

“The last information that I heard was, like, maybe one week ago that the announcement will be in couple of weeks. We’re all waiting. Hopefully we’ll be able to play. I wish, I would like, and I would love to play,” said Rublev on Wednesday.