You would be forgiven if you thought Russian athletes were still banned from international competition after Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. But it appears they are not only welcomed in places like the Cincinnati Open, but pandered to.
An incident over the weekend has drawn scorn from supporters of Ukraine after an American fan was told to leave a match between Russian players Anna Kalinskaya and Anastasia Potapova on Sunday because the massive Ukraine flag quietly wrapped around her shoulders was somehow irritating the players.
The expulsion of the fan, identified only as Lola, came after one of the Russian players complained that the sight of the flag at a sporting event was “not nice,” according to sporting media.
Lola was interviewed on local TV news here, for those who want to hear more from her directly:https://t.co/KNbzSxGiy4
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 16, 2022
“You’re not being nice. You need to put the flag away,’” Lola recalled the umpire telling her, in comments to WKRC. “The message I got was that it is agitating Russian players. I said, ‘I’m not putting it away.’ They kept playing for a minute or two. Then, they stopped the game again, and then the security guard came up to me and said, ‘Ma’am, I’m going to call the cops if you won’t leave.”
“We had our Ukrainian flag, not doing anything crazy, distracting players, but wrapped around, sitting there peacefully and quiet,” said Lola, described as an American originally from Uzbekistan who was attending the match with a Ukrainian friend.
Lola said she and her friend left the stands and strolled around the grounds of the venue, but were again approached by the same security guard who this time told them to either leave the tournament altogether or ditch the flag, which he said violated regulations.
After a number of media outlets asked about the expulsion—and the admission of Russian athletes who are sanctioned in many other tournaments, including Wimbledon—the tournament organizers said that the flag exceeded size limitations for fan flags.
“Per the Western & Southern Open’s bag policy, as stated on the tournament’s website, flags or banners larger than 18 x 18 are prohibited,” a spokesperson for the tournament told Reuters in an email. “Therefore, the patron was asked to remove the flag from the grounds and after doing so was allowed to remain at the tournament. Any inquiries about the chair umpire should be directed to the WTA Tour.”
Several sports commentators tweeted that it is common to see massive flags at such tournaments and that this was the first time anyone had been expelled for such an offense.
“Anyone who has been to #CincyTennis will know that there have been similarly sized flags happily waved and displayed around the stadia here for years, most often US and Serbian flags,” Ben Rothenberg of Racquet Magazine tweeted.
Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in the upcoming U.S. Open on August 29 where a fundraiser for Ukraine refugees is expected to be held.