A number of WNBA players currently competing in Russia are planning to leave the country for safety reasons, according to ESPN, days after Russia invaded Ukraine and launched a military conflict.
The majority of the WNBA’s players opt to compete overseas during the winter, with several choosing to compete for high-profile teams in Russia. Typically, the overseas seasons run as late as April or early May. This year, the WNBA season begins May 6.
WNBA players who were competing in Ukraine are no longer in the country, the league said in a statement last week, adding that reps were also in contact with players in Russia and would “continue to closely monitor the situation.” The WNBA did not say whether or not they were advising players to leave Russia.
Also on Thursday, the WNBA Players Association said it had been “in constant communication” with its members and their representatives “for several weeks.”
“We are the union for the 144 all year round, and their safety is the highest concern,” the union said, adding that it had shared information and advisories on the situation and urged athletes to make a plan that included reaching out to embassies and the U.S. State Department’s SMART traveler program.
On Sunday, WNBA player agent Mike Cound told ESPN that the situation is “way past ‘considering’ leaving.”
“I’ve been on the phone with two players in the past few minutes working out flights,” he said. “It’s really urgent now in terms of there being a dwindling number of flights leaving Russia, and they are going to be hard to get real soon. They are probably fine if they stay put, but if things get worse, that may not be the case. My idea is, ‘Get them out now if we can.’ And if we can’t, we get them to hunker down and stay safe.”
Other agents told ESPN that they are working on plans to get their athletes out of Russia or are “having serious discussions about it.” One said that their clients were going to wait until Monday to decide, but anticipated them leaving the country. While most don’t believe the athletes to be in immediate danger, the situation could escalate and prevent them from leaving.
For safety reasons, agents asked that the players not be named.
The United States embassy in Moscow issued a security alert on Sunday, saying, “An increasing number of airlines are canceling flights into and out of Russia, and numerous countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines. U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available.”