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Ukrainian tennis players call on WTA to remove events from Russia

Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk.(Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)

Ukrainian tennis player and world No. 49 Marta Kostyuk is calling on the WTA to pull all tournaments out of Russia. Speaking on behalf of Ukrainian tennis players, she expressed “surprise and dissatisfaction” at the WTA’s initial lack of response.

“It is especially strange that in prior cases of social injustice and sexual harassment the response of WTA was prompt, appropriate and bold,” she wrote.

Last year, the WTA pulled all tournaments out of China following allegations of sexual assault from Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. Peng has since retired from professional tennis and walked back her allegations. The WTA has cited concern over her well-being and called for there to be an independent investigation into the allegations.

“Our country, Ukraine is under brutal attack by superior nuclear power,” Kostyuk wrote. “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 ITD to do the same,” she continued. “Saying that, we fully support our colleagues from Russia and any Russian speaking tennis players as we understand that the unprovoked attacks happened without their knowledge and participation.”

World No. 15 Elina Svitolina has echoed the sentiments, issuing a statement that urged the international tennis bodies – ATP, WTA and ITF – to follow the recommendations of the IOC.

The IOC has encouraged sport governing bodies to only allow Russian or Belarusian participation as neutral athletes “without displaying any national symbols, colors, flags or anthems.”

The ITF has canceled events in Russia “indefinitely” with no events to be scheduled in Belarus this year. An event in April scheduled for Ukraine has also been postponed, citing “heightened security concerns.”

“This is a fast-evolving situation. We are constantly monitoring events and remain in active discussion with the ITF tennis family, the ITF Board and security experts to decide and align around our next course of action. We stand united with the population of Ukraine,” the ITF said in a statement issued Monday. “Right now, our priority remains the safety of all those participating in our events. We will of course be providing more information as soon as possible.”

After saying Monday she would not be competing in an upcoming WTA event in Mexico, Svitolina has since said that she will play in her Tuesday match against Russian Anastasia Potapova. Part of the reason, she says, is that the WTA will release a statement stating that Russian flags will be removed.

“I will be playing tonight because my opponent is going to be under a neutral flag,” she told ITV news. “In the tennis community, more should have been done. Today is already six days that serious and horrible things are happening in Ukraine.

“That’s why I decided to make a move because I didn’t feel enough support from our tennis community. As Ukrainians, we couldn’t sit silent anymore in feeling so much pain.”

On Instagram, Potapova issued a response saying she “dreamed of playing tennis without choosing a match, a country or a partner in the game.”

“Unfortunately, now we, professional athletes, are essentially becoming hostages of the current situation…I’m sorry, but even though I am a stranger to politics, I am against grief, tears and war.”

Svitolina has also said that she does not blame any Russian athletes and hopes “to pay tribute to all the players, especially Russians and Belarussians, who bravely stated their position against the war.”

Many other international federations have taken a stand, banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition. FIFA has suspended Russia from competition, which could keep them out of the 2023 World Cup. The International Skating Union has also barred athletes from competition, including the upcoming world championships.