Russian and Belarusian athletes are to be banned from Wimbledon this year and the Paris Olympics as “innocent Ukrainians continue to be killed”, said Ukrainian player Elina Svitolina.
Wimbledon have not yet announced whether the ban imposed last year will continue.
The International Olympic Committee is “exploring a way” to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete in 2024.
“The war is still here. The decision should be no different,” said Wimbledon 2019 semi-finalist Svitolina.
The All England Lawn and Tennis Club, which organizes Wimbledon, has yet to say whether it intends to uphold its ban on Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s tournament.
The AELTC and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) were fined for banning players last year and the tournament had its ranking points stripped.
Belarusian Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka previously said ‘no one supports the war’ but added she has ‘no control’ over Belarusian politics and ‘can’t do anything’ to stop the war.
Russian world number five Andrey Rublev, who called for peace last year by writing ‘no war please’ on a TV camera after a match, has another Wimbledon ban declared “would be the worst for tennis”.
“I hope they do the same and keep the ban. I don’t think that should change,” former world number three Svitolina, who is starting her return from maternity leave, told BBC Sport.
“There are still people suffering and Russian soldiers killing innocent Ukrainians.”
“The neutral flag does not change anything”
The IOC announced last week that it would consider allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in Paris 2024 under a neutral flag, saying “no athlete should be prevented from competing solely because of their passport”.
Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Olympics if that happens. Up to 40 countries could join, Polish Sports and Tourism Minister Kamil Bortniczuk said.
“I don’t think the neutral flag changes anything,” said Svitolina, who won a bronze medal in women’s singles at the 2020 Olympics.
“I see a lot of comments that sport should be out of politics, but Russian sport is a big part of their politics.
“I hope we don’t have to do this [boycott] decision because it would send the wrong message.”
Svitolina, 28, asked why athletes shouldn’t be punished with sanctions like ordinary Russian and Belarusian citizens who might also be anti-war.
“Why is it different? We need to punish Russians and Belarusians in general because of what their governments are doing. That’s my view,” she said.
“I have nothing against specific athletes. But how else can we stop this war?
“We should punish Russians and Belarusians as much as possible because their governments are doing these serious things in Ukraine.
“Sanctions will prevent these governments from doing what they are doing.”
“Low electricity leaves 85-year-old grandma climbing 13 floors”
As the anniversary of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine approaches, Svitolina says she wants to use her position as Ukraine’s most high-profile athlete to make sure people around the world “don’t forget” the war and its impact.
Svitolina, along with former Ukrainian soccer captain Andriy Shevchenko and heavyweight boxing champion Oleksandr Usyk, is one of the ambassadors of the United24 fundraising platform set up by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Donations help rebuild the country – including its infrastructure, residences and hospitals.
Ukraine says 27,000 buildings were destroyed in the Kyiv region, while scores of hospitals and ambulances were also attacked.
Svitolina was born in the port city of Odessa, regularly hit by missiles as Russia targets Ukraine’s energy grid.
As a teenage tennis player, she trained in Kharkiv. The second city of Ukraine was bombarded relentlessly and it was there that Russian forces were successfully repelled last year.
“Big cities have been destroyed and it’s very sad to see,” Svitolina said.
“When I talk to my friends there they don’t think about the sad times or what it was like before, they just think about how they can win, beat the enemy and look ahead how we we can rebuild the cities and the country.”
Svitolina uses personal examples of how her family and friends are affected – including her 85-year-old grandmother who is still in Odessa – to paint a grim picture of the current situation.
In sub-zero temperatures, many areas have no electricity as Ukraine’s energy system struggles to keep up with demand. There are caps on how much electricity people can use, and some of the tightest restrictions are in the Odessa region.
“My grandmother lives on the 13th floor of a building and she has to climb the stairs every day because she’s afraid of getting stuck in the elevator,” Svitolina said.
“At any time of the day, the electricity can go out and you’ll be stuck in that elevator for hours. It’s extremely difficult for older people.
“There are many daily problems that everyone is trying to deal with in a good spirit. The war is still in the country and we must keep our spirits up to fight the enemy and find that strong spirit to carry on in this horror every day. .”
“Going back on tour as a mum has always been the plan”
Svitolina describes 2022 as both the ‘happiest’ and ‘most tragic’ year of her life after giving birth to her first child Skai – who she discovered was pregnant shortly after the outbreak. the war.
Skai was born in October and Svitolina – who is married to French player Gael Monfils – is back on the pitch and training full time.
While the two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist is reluctant to set a date for a competitive return – or name a tournament – she hasn’t ruled out it could be during the European clay-court swing that will culminate at Roland Garros. in June.
“I’m taking it easy for now, playing with Gael and working on my shots, hitting a lot of balls,” said Svitolina, who hadn’t held a racquet for eight months while pregnant.
“Coming back to play was also the plan in my head, but having a baby is tough physically and mentally. It’s a lot of work being a full-time mum, training and coming home.
“There are a lot of shining examples – Tatjana Maria, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters – who came back and succeeded.
“I don’t put any pressure on myself. But I’m motivated and ready to work hard and get back on the court.”