WTA

Swiatek questions why Olympic chiefs are pushing for Russians and Belarusians to return

By Sports Desk April 21, 2023

Iga Swiatek believes it is "pretty confusing" to see the International Olympic Committee backing sports stars from Russia and Belarus to return to top-level sport while the invasion of Ukraine continues.

Since Russia launched its assault in February 2022, supported by Belarus, many sports have banned athletes from the two countries outright, while tennis has been among those that has largely allowed them to compete but under a neutral flag.

Swiatek, the women's tennis world number one, hails from Poland and has been a vociferous critic of the war and a fervent supporter of Ukraine.

Interim recommendations were issued by the IOC last month to international federations and organisers of events regarding the involvement of Russians and Belarusians.

The Olympic body urged federations to exclude any athletes or support personnel "who actively support the war" and said teams from either country should not be allowed to compete in international sport for now.

However, in a statement, the IOC said it should be "the sole responsibility" of sporting bodies to decide whether individuals can compete, and this should be "based on their sporting merits and not on political grounds or because of their passports".

There is a clear possibility of Russian and Belarusian athletes being allowed to compete as neutrals at the Paris 2024 Olympics, although IOC president Thomas Bach stressed there has been no decision taken on that matter.

Swiatek was asked about the IOC stance after her opening match at the Stuttgart Open, and the 21-year-old said: "Human rights are important, but I always feel like there are values that you have to kind of treat respectfully, and war is not something that we want in the world. I was pretty open about that since the beginning.

"Right now the situation is pretty complicated, because at the beginning of the war there weren't many decisions one way. At first they were kind of banned in other sports, not in tennis.

"Then it changed a little bit, and they are starting to be allowed, the Russian and Belarusian players, which is pretty confusing, because I feel like nothing changed in Ukraine and the cities are still under attack and many Ukrainian athletes are fighting in the war and actually losing their lives.

"It's heartbreaking. I just hope, no matter what the decision is going to be, the sport will be able to kind of put people together and not separate them.

"But there are tensions, so it may be tricky and hard to do. As just one athlete, I don't have full influence on what's going on, so we kind of have to just compete our best no matter what the circumstances are."

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