Iga Swiatek feels tennis should have banned Russian and Belarusian players

Shahida Jacobs
Iga Swiatek

World No 1 Iga Swiatek believes tennis authorities should have adopted a stronger stance by banning Russian and Belarusian players after the invasion of the Ukraine.

Following Russia’s invasion last February – described by Moscow as a “special military operation” – several international sporting codes opted to ban athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing.

However, tennis took a softer approach as players from the two nations were allowed to compete as neutral athletes with their countries’ anthems and flags banned.

The All England Club (AELTC) and Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) then took a different position as they banned players from the two nations from competing in all grass-court tournaments in the United Kingdom, including Wimbledon, last year.

The ATP and WTA then retaliated by stripping Wimbledon of ranking points while the LTA was hit with heavy fines.

AELTC and LTA have now reversed their decision and athletes from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete at UK events this year.

Three-time Grand Slam winner Swiatek feels the tennis community should have been firmer from the start, but concedes it is too late to ban players now.

“I heard that after World War Two, German players were not allowed as well as Japanese and Italian, and I feel like this kind of thing would show the Russian government that maybe it’s not worth it,” she told the BBC.

“I know it’s a small thing because we are just athletes, a little piece in the world but I feel like sport is pretty important and sport has always been used in propaganda.

“This is something that was considered at the beginning, tennis didn’t really go that way, but now it would be pretty unfair for Russian and Belarusian players to do that because this decision was supposed to be made a year ago.”

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

There has been talk of tension in the WTA locker room with Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus revealing some players have been aggressive towards her due to her nationality.

Swiatek says there was a “lack of leadership” from the WTA and ATP last year and it has resulted in tennis finding itself in a “chaotic place”.

“I feel like tennis, from the beginning, could do a bit better in showing everybody that tennis players are against the war,” the Pole added.

“I feel they could do more to make that point and tell their views, and help us cope a bit better in the locker room because the atmosphere there is pretty tense.”