Novak Djokovic at the 2023 French Open. May 29, 2023; Paris,France; Novak Djokovic (SRB) returns a shot during his match against Aleksandar Kovacevic (USA) on day two at Stade Roland-Garros. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a long history of athletes using their platforms to advocate for particular causes they’re interested in. However, those comments sometimes come with backlash, and that’s perhaps particularly true when they’re about international relations. Along those lines, it’s not necessarily too surprising that the decision from Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic to write “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia! Stop violence” on a camera lens after his French Open win Monday has now provoked backlash from sports organizations in Kosovo and beyond:

Some quotes from that Guardian article:

The French sports minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, says Novak Djokovic’s message about Kosovo was “not appropriate” and warned him not to express his political views at the French Open again.

…Speaking on TV station France 2, Oudéa-Castéra said French Open director Amelie Mauresmo spoke with Djokovic and his entourage to insist on the principle of “neutrality” on the field of play.

“When you carry messages about defending human rights, messages that bring people together around universal values, a sportsperson is free to express them,” Oudea-Castera told broadcaster France 2. “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.”

…“Novak Djokovic has yet again promoted the Serbian nationalists’ propaganda and used the sport platform to do so,” Ismet Krasniqi, president of Kosovo’s Olympic Committee (KOK), said in a statement.

“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,” he added, urging the IOC to investigate “by opening disciplinary proceedings against the athlete.”

The IOC has yet to respond. On Tuesday, the Kosovo tennis federation said Djokovic’s comments were “regrettable”, accusing him of using his status as a well-known personality to stir tensions.

This situation with Djokovic (seen above during that second-round match Monday) has some unusual qualities when it comes to athletes’ political messaging. Most can agree with the “Stop violence!” line he used, but “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” is quite something for a prominent Serbian athlete to write. And that’s especially true with Serbia’s continued refusal to recognize Kosovo (where Djokovic’s father was born) as an independent country (unlike more than 100 UN member states), and with recent violence there involving ethnic Serbs clashing with security officials and NATO peacekeeping troops after elections boycotted by Serbs saw ethnic Albanian mayors elected in northern Kosovo.

So far, it doesn’t look like there’s much official pushback from tennis officials (beyond Maursemo “speaking to” Djokovic) or the IOC on this. But it will well be worth watching to see if Djokovic makes any further statements on Kosovo during the French Open. And, if he does make further comments on this, it will be interesting to see how those remarks are received.

[The Guardian; photo from Susan Mullane/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.