Baghdatis unrepentant as anti-Turkish row flares | sports | Hindustan Times
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Baghdatis unrepentant as anti-Turkish row flares

sports Updated: Jan 18, 2008 19:15 IST

Marcos Baghdatis defended his actions Friday after being captured on video chanting anti-Turkish slogans with the Greek supporters' group involved in a clash with police at the Australian Open.

Videos circulating on the Internet, and broadcast here, show the Greek Cypriot, an Australian Open finalist in 2006, holding a flare and chanting "Turks Out of Cyprus" at a barbeque hosted by the Hellas Fan Club.

Members of the group were involved in a row at Melbourne Park on Tuesday that led to police using pepper spray to subdue rowdy fans, with 10 people ejected and three arrested.

Baghdatis was shown arm-in-arm with the alleged ringleader of Tuesday's trouble, who has been banned from the rest of the tournament and is expected to be charged with assaulting police and resisting arrest.

In one video, the world number 16 holds a burning flare above his head and sings a chant with others condemning Turkish occupation of part of his homeland of Cyprus.

"Turks out of Cyprus," the group chants twice, after finishing singing the Greek national anthem, the Melbourne Age reported.

The video was shot 10 months ago and surfaced on You Tube.

In a statement issued after the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) met with his management, Baghdatis offered no apology.

"In that video from 2007 I was supporting the interest of my country, Cyprus, while protesting against a situation that is not recognized by the United Nations," he said.

"Now I would like to concentrate on the tournament and ask everyone to respect that. I love the Australian Open and want to do well here."

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkey invaded the island's northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece.

International efforts to reunify the island have stalled.

The Hellas Fan Club, which is part of a worldwide network of supporters of Hellenic athletes, said the slogans being chanted had been misconstrued.

"The 'Turks out of Cyprus' chant is directed towards the well documented illegal occupation of Cyprus, and is not directed towards citizens of the Turkish ethnic minority," it said in a statement.

Earlier in the tournament, Baghdatis defended the Greek supporters involved in the ugly scenes this week during a match between Chilean Fernando Gonzalez and Konstantinos Economidis of Greece.

"I heard that the police came in and just started spraying, so I didn't think the fans did anything wrong," he said.

It emerged Friday that one of those thrown out that night was a cousin of Baghdatis, who was accused of pouring beer over a police officer's head.

His VIP pass was stripped by authorities for unruly behaviour, the Sun Herald reported.

The Australian Turkish Cypriot Cultural and Welfare Association on Friday demanded an apology from Baghdatis.

"This is a straight-forward provocation of our community and he is playing a different game to sport, he is not being a sportsman and should apologise," president Hakki Suleyman told reporters.

Greek community groups played down the furore, with the president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria saying relations between the city's Greek and Turkish communities were "great".

Baghdatis beat Marat Safin in a five-set thriller on Thursday and now plays Australian Lleyton Hewitt in the third round on Saturday.

Then ranked 54, he captivated crowds and the media at the 2006 Australian Open when he vanquished seeds Andy Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian before going down to Roger Federer in the final.