WTA chief responds to criticism of tennis’ lack of support for Ukraine players

Shahida Jacobs
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WTA Chief Executive Officer Steve Simon insists the organisation’s “sympathies are at the highest level with everybody in Ukraine” following criticism from Lesia Tsurenko.

Ukrainian Tsurenko withdrew from her Indian Wells Open third-round match against Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday and the official statement read due to “personal reasons”.

However, the world No 95 later clarified that she withdrew following a “panic attack” on the back of a conversion with Simon about tennis’ handling of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

“A few days ago, I had a conversation with our WTA CEO Steve Simon, and I was absolutely shocked by what I heard,” she said.

“He told me that he himself does not support the war, but if the players from Russia and Belarus support it, then this is only their own opinion, and the opinion of other people should not upset me.

“At the same time, he noted that if this had happened to him and he had been in my place, he would have felt terrible.”

READ MORE: Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko suffered ‘panic attack’ after talks with WTA chief

A day later world No 1 Iga Swiatek called on tennis to provide more support to Ukraine players, adding “everything we discuss in tennis is about Belarusian and Russian players, if they should be allowed, what’s going on with them”.

Simon, though, says the WTA are determined to support Ukraine players.

“We continue to do as much as we have the ability to do,” Simon told BBC Sport.

“We have done a lot for our athletes, I know there’s a variety of opinions on that out there.

“What’s going on in Ukraine is reprehensible. You can’t support it any way – nor what the Russian government is doing.

“We spoke with Anastasia directly and also have given her a warning so she knows that this was not appropriate and I don’t think we will see any further instances of this going forward.”

Simon’s comment came in reference to Russia’s Anastasia Potapova wearing a Spartak Moscow shirt in Indian Wells.

Swiatek also alluded to the fact that there is tension in the locker room due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine and the issue will continue to be contentious, especially with suggestions that Wimbledon will lift its ban on Russian and Belarusian players.

There has also been talk that players from the two countries will be allowed to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics despite calls from the likes of Elina Svitolina not to allow them to play at the Games.

Simon, though, insists they are not softening their Russian stance.

“Our sympathies are at the highest level with everybody in Ukraine and I don’t think any of us can properly understand what they are going through,” he said.

“I don’t think that any of this is lessening what’s going on over there.

“We continue to speak with [Russian and Belarusian players] and make sure they understand about the sensitivities here and that they are competing as neutral athletes. I think there is a strong understanding on that.

“We’ve always had the position – and it’s been a fundamental position of the tour – that every player that is eligible should be allowed to play. And this is irrespective to decisions that may have been made by local governments.

“We’ve been consistent with that and we are going to stay consistent with that. We think that the neutral approach is appropriate.”