It’s still unclear whether tennis will be affected, but it’s very concerning to hear that Ukrainian government has banned its national sports teams from participating in competitions that include athletes from Russia or Belarus.
Triggered by the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals, the Ukrainian Ministry of Youth and Sports issued a decree that bans Ukrainians from competing in Olympic, non-Olympic and Paralympic events if Russians and Belarusians are included in those competitions.
The ban clearly refers to national sports teams and not to individual athletes, but we’ll see whether it will have any implications in tennis. Moreover, even though Russian and Belarusian players are allowed to play tennis tournaments under a neutral flag, including Wimbledon, they have been excluded from team competitions, such as the Billie Jean King Cup, pretty much since the start of the war.
The Ministry’s decision is bizarre as it will hurt Ukrainian athletes more than anyone. Ukrainian women’s tennis players have been urging the WTA to provide them with a peaceful work environment by excluding players from their enemy countries, but instead, it looks like the Ukrainians are threatened to be excluded by their own government.
Prior to this decision being made by Ukraine, the IOC commented on the possibility of this happening and explained that it would hurt only the Ukrainian athlete community and in no way impact the war, reiterating that “it is not up to governments to decide which athletes can participate in which international competitions.”
Moreover, the Ukrainian Tennis Federation warned about the devastating effect this type of restriction would have:
“With this appeal, we express a common position regarding the possible decision of the NOC on a complete boycott by the players of all international tournaments where Russians or Belarusians play. Such a decision will lead to the destruction of Ukrainian tennis, because players from these countries take part in almost every competition, and will become a sanction not against the Russians, but against the Ukrainians. If Russians and Belarusians are allowed to compete, you need to play with them and win, and not avoid the battle.”