Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina is refusing to play against Russian and Belarusian players unless tennis’ governing bodies follow the recommendations made by the International Olympic Committee.
I believe the current situation requires a clear position from our organisations: ATP, WTA and ITF. As such, we – Ukrainian players – requested to ATP, WTA and ITF to follow the recommendations of the IOC to accept Russian or Belarusian nationals only as neutral athletes, without displaying any national symbols, colours, flags or anthems. Elina Svitolina
Now ranked 15 and a former World No 3, Svitolina is the top seed at the WTA 250 tournament in Monterrey, where she was drawn to play Russia’s Anastasia Potapova in her opening round match.
Two other Russians, Kamilla Rakhimova and Anna Kalinskaya, are also in the main singles draw.
“I want to announce that I will not play in Monterrey, nor any other match, against Russian or Belarusian tennis players until our organisations take the necessary actions,” Svitolina wrote on Twitter. “I do not blame Russian athletes.
“I wish to pay tribute to all players, especially Russians and Belarusians, who bravely stated their position against the war. Their support is essential.”
She censured the governing bodies of tennis, shortly after two of her compatriots criticised the WTA for not taking a public stance on the Russian invasion of their country.
“I believe the current situation requires a clear position from our organisations: ATP, WTA and ITF,” she said.
The WTA has removed the nationality of Russian players from its website and ranking list, but the organisation has yet to comment publicly on Svitolina’s demands.
Svitolina was echoing Marta Kostyuk, ranked 54th in the world, and Lesia Tsurenko, a former top-25 player now ranked 127, who posted a letter on social media expressing their dissatisfaction.
In their statement on Monday, they wrote: “We Ukrainian tennis players would like to express our great surprise and dissatisfaction with the lack of any response with the situation with our motherland.
“It is especially strange that in prior cases of social injustice and sexual harassment the response of WTA was prompt, appropriate and bold.
“Our country, Ukraine, is under a brutal attack by the superior nuclear power. The bombs and rockets are hitting our houses, killing our people, destroying our life.
“We demand that WTA immediately condemn Russian government, pull all tournaments out of Russia and approach ITF to do the same.”
They also urged the WTA to ‘follow the guidance of the IOC’, which has called for a sporting ban on Russia, but Kostyuk and Tsurenko stopped short of calling for a ban on Russian players.
“We fully support our colleagues from Russia and any Russian-speaking tennis player as we understand the unprovoked attacks happened without their knowledge and participation,” they added.
“Stop the War. Stop Russian aggression. Bring Peace to our homes. Be HUMAN,” they concluded.
On Monday, the WTA posted a video on Twitter of the Ukrainian sisters, Dayana and Ivanna Yastremska, taking to the court for a doubles match in Lyon with the caption: “Sending love back home.”
The pair lost to Spaniard Georgina Garcia-Perez & Xenia Knoll of Switzerland, 6-2 6-4.
Dayana said her family had to shelter from bombs underground last week, before she and her 15-year-old sister evacuated from Odessa to France, leaving their parents behind in Ukraine.
“We were woken up by bombs,” said the 21-year-old, who went for 3 nights without sleep, at a press conference. “We didn’t realise or understand what was going on… It was crazy…
“My father told me ‘I don’t know how everything will end, but you have to take care of each other. You have to build your new life’.”
Yastremska said they travelled from Odessa by car, before eventually crossing the Danube by boat to reach Romania.
On Sunday, the Ukrainian Tennis Federation wrote to Tennis Europe and the ITF to demand the expulsion of both Russia and Belarus from the organisation, and to ban Russia from team and individual tournaments.
The IOC said on Friday that Russian and Belarusian national flags should not be displayed at international sports events, and on Monday, the IOC’s Executive Board went further, recommending sports federations ban Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from competing in events.
“I believe the current situation requires a clear position from our organisations: ATP, WTA and ITF,” Svitolina posted. “As such, we – Ukrainian players – requested to ATP, WTA and ITF to follow the recommendations of the IOC to accept Russian or Belarusian nationals only as neutral athletes, without displaying any national symbols, colours, flags or anthems.”
While sanctions to Vladimir Putin’s nation have come from the business and finance world, the EU and Nato, the world of sport has also opposed the acts of aggression with refusals to face Russia or their teams and various sporting organisations, including soccer, Formula One, basketball, swimming and skiing, have already boycotted events.
Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova followed her countrymen, Andrey Rublev and new World No 1 Daniil Medvedev, in denouncing president Putin’s invasion, posting ‘stop the violence, stop the war’ on social media.
“I’ve been playing tennis since I was a kid,” she wrote on Twitter. “I have represented Russia all my life.
“This is my home and my country. But now I am in complete fear, as are my friends and family.”
The gold medallist also urged her nation to lay down arms as the sporting world continues to vociferously oppose and condemn Putin’s actions.
“But I am not afraid to clearly state my position. I am against war and violence,” Pavlyuchenkova added. “Personal ambitions or political motives cannot justify violence.
“This takes away the future not only from us, but also from our children. I am confused and do not know how to help in this situation.
“I’m just an athlete who plays tennis. I am not a politician, not a public figure, I have no experience in this. I can only publicly disagree with these decisions taken and openly talk about it.
“Stop the violence, stop the war.”
Russian-born Australian player Daria Saville has also been vocal against her former homeland’s actions.
Meanwhile Potapova, Svitolina’s opponent, chose a different perspective, urging athletes not to get involved in the situation, even though she was ‘against grief, tears and war’.
Another Ukrainian, former World No 31 Sergiy Stakhovsky, who retired after this year’s Australian Open, has signed up to join his country’s military reserves despite having no experience.
Stakhovsky left behind his wife and 3 children for war-torn Ukraine to join the reserves.
“I honestly still don’t imagine how my wife will forgive me, if she ever will,” Stakhovsky said from Kyiv. “The worst thing out of it all [was speaking to my] youngest one.
“I have a three-year-old son and I was at the door and he asked me, ‘Daddy, where are you going?’ and I said, ‘I’ll be right back’. That’s the toughest one.
“Apart from that, I never took it lightly. I barely slept since the war broke out. I can’t really sleep. Honestly, now being in Kyiv, yes, it is stressful, yes, it is different.
“But I honestly feel relief, because I see the energy in the eyes of the people when I was crossing Ukraine because I actually drove from the Slovakian border all the way to Kyiv, so basically around 700km.
“I can see how well the self-organisation of the territorial defence is working. Little cities, villages, they get around and build roadblocks.
“They take their hunting rifles and they all stand and they all check and they all want to help to prevail, to win.”
Stakhovsky said he and his compatriots would do whatever was required to help.
“I’m not a soldier. I know how to use the guns but I’ve never shot anyone or been in a gunfight,” he said.
“So, it’s not really something that I’m looking forward to, but if it’s necessary, I will do it.”