Pressure is building on the inclusion of Russian and Belarusian players on the ATP and WTA Tours, with the IOC taking a protective approach in recommending the exclusion of athletes from sporting events because of the war in Ukraine.
You don’t have to be involved in politics to behave like a human-being. Everyone knows what’s going on. It hurts me. It hurts me every time I arrive at the stadium and see all these Russian players. Their only problem right now is not being able to make money transfers... I will be concise: look at other sports. Look what they decided. That’s all. Marta Kostyuk
The organisation says that it would not normally punish athletes for the decisions of a Government if they are not actively participating in those actions but the invasion of Ukraine by Russia is an exceptional circumstance, which the IOC says led to the recommendation being taken in order to ‘protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all participants’.
Numerous International Federations already have implemented the IOC’s recommendations, leaving Russia and Belarus largely frozen out of international sport, but tennis still allows the participation of their nationals as ‘neutrals’.
In an open letter published on Friday, Thomas Bach, the IOC President, said: “The Olympic Movement will not fall into the trap of the cheap argument that this would be a politicisation of sport, going against the Olympic Charter which requires political neutrality.
“Whoever so blatantly violates the Olympic Truce with political and even military means cannot denounce the consequences as being politically motivated.”
The IOC President justified the decision to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes from competitions by arguing the participation of athletes from the nations, while Ukrainians were absent due to the conflict, would have left events at risk of politicisation by athletes and teams.
A potential example could be the International Paralympic Committees (IPC) decision to exclude athletes from the nations at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games, amid concerns other participants were set to boycott the event.
“We urge every sports organisation in the world to protect the integrity, fairness and safety of their competitions by not allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part or in special circumstances to at least prohibit any identification of their nationality.”
Bach’s letter appears to outline a potential legal argument in defence of the sanctions, which seems certain to be put to the test, with Russian authorities having pledged appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
He added that the Olympic Movement had shown solidarity for Ukraine, with a fund established to provide humanitarian assistance for Ukraine’s Olympic community.
Meanwhile, at Indian Wells this week, Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk hit out at the ‘unacceptable’ attitude of Russian competitors, accusing them of caring more about problems transferring money than the war in her home country.
“What is very disappointing is that no Russian player came to see me,” the 19-year-old said. “None have told me they’re sorry for what their country is doing to mine. The civilian dead and the kids – it’s just terrible. This is shocking.
“One player messaged me, another chatted with me, but I didn’t hear any apologies, I didn’t hear anyone telling me they didn’t support what was going on. To me, that’s shocking.
“You don’t have to be involved in politics to behave like a human-being. Everyone knows what’s going on. It hurts me. It hurts me every time I arrive at the stadium and see all these Russian players.
“Their only problem right now is not being able to make money transfers. That’s what they’re talking about. This is unacceptable in my opinion.
“I can’t say it about the Belarusians because they’re…victims in this…The only problem [I hear the Russians talking about] is not being able to transfer the money.”
Russian and Belarusian players have been allowed to continue playing tennis in individual events provided they do so under a neutral flag, but Kostyuk would support a ban on players from those countries, saying: “I do not agree with the decisions that have been made.
“I will be concise: look at other sports. Look what they decided. That’s all.”
Russian and Belarusian players have been vocal in calling for peace but have pointedly stopped short of explicitly condemning the actions of their countries.
“I don’t like it, because what’s going on is not a secret,” Kostyuk added. “You cannot be neutral in this
“[Saying] ‘No war’ means a lot of things. We can stop war by giving up. But this was never an option. We don’t want to go in the direction of Russia…”
Elsewhere, Elina Svitolina hosted ‘Tennis with the Stars’ to provide aid relief for Ukrainian refugees this week.
“I’m really thankful to all the people who stand for Ukraine and for people living in Ukraine going through hell,” she told Tennis Channel.
On Tuesday afternoon, Svitolina walked into the Omni Rancho Las Palmas tennis facility with a somber look on her face alongside her husband and ATP veteran Gael Monfils.
The two were joined by Bob & Mike Bryan, Frances Tiafoe, Nick Monroe and Jessica Pegula, who all jumped into action in front of a lively crowd.
Over the last couple of years, Svitolina has given back to her country in various ways, including via her foundation that helps provide opportunities to Ukrainian children, so witnessing the devastating attacks to her homeland makes it even tougher for the World No 18.
“I’ve been helping kids in Ukraine for over two years now and seeing what is happening, the situation in Ukraine with the war, it’s really tough to see for me,” Svitolina told Tennis Channel. “Seeing all the innocent people struggling, it’s heartbreaking for me.
“I’m really happy we could organise this event to raise money and to help people who are in need.”
Other than keeping the crowd entertained with their variety of doubles tricks, the Bryan Brothers held a ‘Racquets for Refugees’ fundraising auction that saw numerous autographed racquets up for grabs, a Chicago Bulls cap signed by Michael Jordan, and various posters featuring Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and much more.
Hundreds of tennis fans and players made their way to the event about 10 miles away from the Indian Wells Tennis Garden to support Svitolina and Ukraine.
“I’m really thankful to all the people who stand for Ukraine and for people living in Ukraine going through hell,” Svitolina said. “Really thankful for all the soldiers and volunteers who took the weapons in their hands and doing their best to defend our nation and Ukrainian land.”
Andy Murray has pledged to donate his prize winnings for the rest of the year to help children affected by the war in Ukraine.
Murray, who is an ambassador for Unicef UK, is working with the charity to support children with medical supplies and educational needs.
The father of four wrote on Twitter: “Over 7.5m children are at risk with the escalating conflict in Ukraine, so I’m working with @UNICEF_uk to help provide urgent medical supplies and early childhood development kits.
“It’s vital education continues, so UNICEF is working to enable access to learning for displaced children, as well as supporting the rehabilitation of damaged schools, together with replacement equipment and furniture.
“I’m going to be donating my earnings from my prize money for the rest of the year, but anyone in the UK can support UNICEF’s humanitarian response by donating to our appeal by following this link – https://unicef.uk/am_ukraine Children in Ukraine need peace – now.”
Murray’s announcement came on the same day that tennis’ governing bodies came together to announce a donation of US $700,000, which is approximately £530,000, to help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and support the Ukraine Tennis Federation.
The WTA, ATP, ITF, and the four Grand Slams – the Australian Open, Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open – announced the initiative on 1 March, unified in their condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Further efforts to support those affected by this crisis will take place as part of the newly created ‘Tennis Plays For Peace’ campaign over the coming weeks, the organisations said in a statement.
Each of the seven entities donated $100,000 USD to the humanitarian relief efforts, with donations supporting Global Giving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund which will provide immediate help on the ground across the region.
The 7 bodies also signalled support via their social and digital platforms by prominently featuring the Ukraine ribbon icon, with everyone in the tennis ecosystem encouraged to use the hashtag #TennisPlaysforPeace.
In addition, physical ribbons are being distributed for ATP & WTA players to wear at the BNP Paribas Open tournament in Indian Wells.
Ukrainians Elina Svitolina and Sergiy Stakhovsky, who has himself returned to Ukraine to join the reserve army, have produced a powerful and emotive short video with a message of hope for their country.
Tournaments and tennis federations across the world, along with the entire playing spectrum, from juniors, seniors and wheelchair athletes, will be sent a digital toolkit to further drive awareness and support the relief efforts.
Click HERE to make a donation to Global Giving in support of the humanitarian relief efforts.
Elsewhere, Novak Djokovic pledged to dig deep into his pockets to provide financial support for Stakhovsky, who barely a few weeks after retiring from professional tennis, decided to leave his family in Hungary and returned to his native Ukraine to help stop the Russian invasion in central Kyiv.