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Ukrainian tennis star Elina Svitolina is continuing to demand that athletes from Russia and Belarus go public with their stance on the war in her home country or face further isolation from the sports world.
Svitolina, who announced in March she would be taking some time away from tennis because of lingering back pain and the emotional stress caused by Russian attacks on Ukraine, told The Associated Press Wednesday that Ukrainian players “want to feel safe” in knowing if their opponents support or oppose the ongoing attacks in Ukraine.
“For us, for Ukrainians, it’s very important that they speak out, that they choose which side they take. We want to know, we want to feel safe about that. Because if they don’t say their opinion on this, we don’t know if they support their government, if they support the action of the army,” Svitolina explained. “Because in Russia and Belarus sport is a big propaganda.”
In this Sept. 5, 2019, file photo, Elina Svitolina, Ukraine, returns a shot to Serena Williams during the semifinals of the U.S. Open in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)
Wimbledon organizers announced in April a decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament amid Russia’s “unprecedented military aggression” against Ukraine and its people. The All England Club previously said in March that it was having discussions with the British government about whether to issue a ban similar to other international sports governing bodies.
“I feel like they need to speak up about their position, this is very important. Doesn’t matter if it’s in a Grand Slam or [another] tournament,” Svitolina added. “I think every Russian and Belarusian athlete should take their position so that we know that there is no bad people among us.”
Svitolina said “very few” Russian and Belarusian players condemned the war to her.
Elina Svitolina of Ukraine and Anastasia Potapova of Russia shake hands after a match on Day 4 of the GNP Seguros WTA Monterrey Open 2022 at Estadio GNP Seguros March 1, 2022, in Monterrey, Mexico. (Gonzalo Gonzalez/Jam Media/Getty Images)
“This is very sad because many athletes from different countries came up to us and showed us their support,” she said. “That’s why it really hurts us, and we don’t understand why exactly [Russian and Belarusian players] didn’t.”
Svitolina recently said in a statement posted to her Twitter that the ATP, WTA and ITF should demand that Russian and Belarusian players answer a series of questions about the war and ban them from events “if applicable.”
Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in action against Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic during a match at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex Feb. 21, 2022, in Doha, Qatar. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)
While Wimbledon has banned athletes from those countries, the French Open is allowing them to compete at neutrals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.