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Rowdy fans ejected as Open starts under a cloud


 

Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:53

It wasn’t just the rain clouds over Melbourne Park that cast an unwelcome shadow over the opening day of the Australian Open.

Security staff were forced to eject eleven fans from the grounds and deny entry to another group after they set off a flare and reportedly assaulted a photographer, recalling incidents of unrest in recent years involving groups of rival fans that has led to upgraded security at this year’s event.

The ejected spectators had been standing on chairs and acting disruptively during Croatian Ivo Karlovic’s victory over No.13 seed Radek Stepanek.

One fan was discovered to be carrying two flares smuggled past security officers at the gate.

“These people have been removed from the stadium and they’re not welcome to return,” Victoria Police Supt. Jock Menzel said.

In a separate incident, a band of Croatian supporters in red and white checked clothing and hooded sweat shirts were denied entry after setting off a flare outside the grounds.

“Tennis Australia and Victoria Police, we won’t tolerate poor behaviour and we’ve demonstrated that this morning,” Menzel said. “We’re here to set a standard. Our mission is to make sure the event occurs in a happy and safe way and that people are safe.”

The group are also accused of spitting on and punching a local newspaper photographer as he attempted to shoot the scenes.

The incidents bear similarities to those of previous years, typically involving Australia-based Balkan supporters. Australia has a large population of immigrants from the Balkans whose ethnic rivalries are sometimes displayed at sporting events.

Some of the worst scenes occurred on day one of the 2007 tournament, when Serbian and Croatian fans attacked each other with improvised weapons including flagpoles and bottles.

In 2008, police used pepper spray to break up a crowd disturbance during Greek Konstantinos Economidis’ match with Fernando Gonzales.

And last year, a chair-throwing brawl erupted between Serbian and Bosnian fans in front of one of the big screens during a match during Serb Novak Djokovic and Bosnian-born American Amer Delic’s match. Several people still face court charges for the incident.

In the wake of these episodes, police numbers have been boosted and more CCTV cameras installed for this year’s Open, with officials last week saying they were confident of avoiding a repetition of the ugly scenes of previous years.

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