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Australian Tennis Fans Didn't Understand Last Night's Protest

Last night's protest at the Australian Open attracted a lot of booing. We asked spectators why.
February 2, 2015, 8:00am
Image via YouTube user breakingnewz

Video via YouTube user Claire Canning

The plight of detainees on Manus Island is a cause for growing international concern, but seemingly not for tennis fans. As Novak Djokovic led Andy Murray 4-3 last night at the Australian Open, two protesters jumped into the court with the words "Australia open for refugees" printed on t-shirts while others in the stand unveiled the same message on a banner. It took security around a minute to intervene while the crowd booed. But why the booing? Surely that's a little callous.

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David Simpson was a spectator at the final. According to him no one really understood what was happening. "It all went down so quickly," he said. "Security had the protesters and the guys with banners out so quickly and then everyone started booing. I think the problem was that people didn't know what it was all about. I didn't. I couldn't understand what they were referring to. I don't think people were angry about the politics either. I think it was just confusion about why the game had stopped."

Tess Peverill was another spectator who agreed the issue was the interruption. "As they were escorted out people were clapping and then the crowd started to boo. I wasn't fussed by it, I'm not someone that would boo people. I doubt people were booing the political message, it was just the disruption."

This isn't an isolated event of course. Australians have a long history of not enjoying sports interruptions. In 2008 cricketer Andrew Symonds took out a streaker by body slamming him to the ground, and the crowd reacted with cheers. Similarly during the 2013 State of Origin a rather overweight streaker interrupted the match during the last two minutes of play. The "moron" as described by the commentators was removed by the police while much of the crowd booed.

While this certainly seems to be what happened last night, the young woman who was removed from the court, Karoline Morwitzer, insists that there were positives too.

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"Besides the boos we did actually get some cheers and pats on the back from the crowd," she said. "The problem, I think, is that sport is a very particular place where we are very resistant to mix politics and this space has historically been this way."

The group behind the protest aptly call themselves Australia Open for Refugees. As Karoline explains they formed especially for the match after the hunger strikes on Manus last month, in which several detainees sewed their mouths shut and swallowed razor blades .

"We just felt like we needed to change the rules of the game," she says. "We needed to draw some lines. We just believe this issue is much bigger than tennis."

Morwitzer admits she had apprehensions about the stunt but felt the benefits were too good to pass up "I was completely terrified," she said, "but we felt that whatever the risks, they were nothing compared to the risks asylum seekers are taking getting to Australia. That's also the same with the potential charges. They're a small compromise for the issue we wanted to push out."

She and one other protester are now awaiting formal charges following the incident. It is expected they'll will be charged under the Major Sporting Events Act 2009, which was written specifically for this type of offence.

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Follow Charlie on Twitter: @clbraith