World number one tennis player Iga Swiatek has expressed her disappointment with the sport’s governing bodies for not imposing a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian players following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year.
Speaking in a recent interview with the BBC, Swiatek stated that tennis had missed an opportunity to send a strong message to Moscow and failed to show that the sport was against the war, similar to the one imposed on players from Germany, Italy, and Japan after World War II. She acknowledged that athletes are just a “little piece” in the grand scheme of things, but with sports always being part of propaganda measures, the Pole did not think it was out of the question.
“I feel like tennis, from the beginning, could do a bit better in showing everybody that tennis players are against the war. I feel they could do more to make that point and tell their views, and help us cope a bit better in the locker room because the atmosphere there is pretty tense.“
Russia launched what it called a special military operation’ against Ukraine on February 24th last year, prompting international condemnation. In response, a decision was made to allow Russian and Belarusian players to only compete on the tour as neutral athletes. Those countries have also been suspended from team events.
Alexandr Dolgopolov, a Ukrainian ATP player, has praised Iga Swiatek for her firm stance against the lifting of the ban on Russian and Belarusian players in tennis.
In 2022, the LTA and All England Club decided to ban Russian and Belarussian players from their events, including Wimbledon, following advice from the British government, who feared their tournaments could have been used as propaganda by the Russian government. However, the move triggered outrage from tennis’ governing bodies, who subsequently decided to remove the allocations of ranking points and issued hefty fines, arguing that no players should be punished for the actions of their government.
Wimbledon banned players from the two countries last year after the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, but said in March that it would now accept them as neutral athletes. The 2022 tournament was the first time players were excluded on grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War Two era.
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Swiatek admitted that tennis could have done a lot more in the beginning but did not think it would be fair to implement such measures now, so long after the start of the war. However, she emphasized that stronger action from the sport’s governing bodies from the outset would have helped show everybody that all tennis players were against the war.
“I feel like tennis, from the beginning, could do a bit better in showing everybody that tennis players are against the war,” Swiatek said. “I feel they could do more to make that point and tell their views, and help us cope a bit better in the locker room because the atmosphere there is pretty tense.”
Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who won this year’s Australian Open, has said she struggled to understand the “hate” in the locker room, revealing that the atmosphere is “pretty intense” these days due to the Russia-Ukraine war.
“Tennis didn’t really go that way, but now it would be pretty unfair for Russian and Belarusian players to do that because this decision was supposed to be made a year ago.”
“It’s not their fault they have a passport like that … their situation is pretty complicated and it’s hard for them to speak out loud about it,” the 21-year-old said
Russian and Belarusian players have been competing on the tours and at the other Grand Slams as neutral athletes.