Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic’s controversial message at the French Open, in which he said Kosovo was the “heart of Serbia,” is “clearly not appropriate,” France’s Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said Wednesday.
“It’s a very militant message, very political,” Oudéa-Castéra said in an interview with French public broadcaster France 2.
“We really shouldn’t go down that road, especially given the circumstances,” the minister added, referring to recent clashes.
One of the most successful athletes in tennis history with 22 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic caused an outcry on Monday after his first-round win at Roland-Garros. “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence,” Djokovic wrote in Serbian on a TV camera screen.
Long-standing tensions between Serbia and Kosovo — which declared its independence in 2008 but is not recognized by Belgrade — have resurfaced in recent days, after clashes between police and Serb protesters in northern Kosovo wounded dozens, including NATO soldiers.
“As a son of a man born in Kosovo, I feel the need to give my support to our people and to entire Serbia,” Djokovic said at a news briefing after his game on Monday, according to Reuters.
In her interview on Wednesday, the French sports minister said that the head of the Roland-Garros tournament had talked with Djokovic and his team after the incident.
“There’s a principle of neutrality on the field of play,” Oudéa-Castéra, a former professional tennis player, said. “It cannot happen again.”
Djokovic, who has the chance to claim the all-time record for Grand Slam tournament victories if he wins the French Open, will play Hungary’s Márton Fucsovics in the second round on Wednesday night.