“We share locker room with people who want us dead”: tension increase between Ukrainians and WTA
LONDON – During a Wimbledon edition with less political discussion than expected, one of the Ukrainian tennis key actors spiced up with a series of allegations: “We share locker rooms with people who want our families dead and our people exterminated. And the WTA does nothing about it.”
Tension between Ukrainians and WTA
Nikita Vlasov is who speaks. Lesia Tsurenko’s coach gave an interview to L’Equipe in which he gave his opinion about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the management of the governing body of women’s tennis. Harsh opinion.
“WTA chief Steve Simon knows the names of Russian and Belarusian tennis players who support the invasion in my country and they do nothing. They just repeat: ‘The war in your country, it’s really horrible.’ But that’s not enough. Those people want us dead! They want my mother, my father, my brothers and my children to die!” he told French journalist Quentin Moynet in London.
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In March, during Indian Wells, Tsurenko suffered a panic attack that prevented her from showing up for her third-round match against Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka.
The Ukrainian had trouble breathing after what she heard from Simon, as she assured Big Tennis Ukraine at the time: “It was a shock. He told me that he would feel very bad if he was in my shoes, and while he does not support the war personally, he believes that if players from Russia and Belarus support it, it is only their opinion, which should not affect me.”
Tsurenko explained that after that exchange, she filed a formal complaint privately and not a single WTA member responded to her or wanted to clarify the circumstances.
“This indicates that the WTA simply tried to hide this incident, which reflects a clear lack of ethics from our CEO. Such disregard for the situation I found myself in did confused me and, in a way, terrified me. I was hoping that some member would initiate an official investigation, because the fact that the visible head of such a company would allow himself to mentally mistreat a person who is suffering from a war is unprecedented,” she said.
But after calling for an investigation, what happened was that the Ukrainians became investigated. The WTA sent a letter to Tsurenko confirming this. Vlasov is not afraid of the investigation, as he detailed to L’Equipe. Another chapter between Ukrainians and WTA.
“This is purely for political purposes. They just want to put pressure on Lesia. I want to prove that Simon mentally abused my player. He can no longer be the leader of the WTA. He has done a lot of damage to Ukrainians,” he fired back.
Before the start of Wimbledon, Belarusian Sabalenka opened her first press conference by asking the accredited media not to make political questions. She even started to do so at the Berlin tournament, prior to London. In response to any non-tennis questions, Sabalenka told journalists to review the official transcripts of her past statements.
In early June, at Roland Garros, Sabalenka fled from mandatory press conferences to protect her mental health. No fines, and with the blessing of the French Tennis Federation (FFT).
“I don’t support the war, I don’t support (Alexandr) Lukashenko right now,” she said when she faced the microphones again, referring to the support she once expressed for the Belarusian president.
An insufficient statement for Vlasov: “He doesn’t support what war, Star Wars? Journalists should ask directly whether she finds it acceptable to invade Ukraine. Are the actions of the Russian army reprehensible?” And about that statement about Lukashenko, ‘now’, when ‘now’? When he goes to the toilet, or in the last 18 months? Russians and Belarusians think we are stupid. All Belarusian tennis players receive money from their state – clearly they support Lukashenko!”.
The 39-year-old coach goes further, and criticizes even Andrey Rublev and Daria Kasatkina, the Russian tennis players who have been most vocal against the war. “When Rublev writes on camera “no war, please”, that’s fine, but it’s not enough. What does he mean? Does he want Russia to leave Ukraine, or does he want Ukraine to surrender?” he tells Moynet.
“I’m not saying that all Russian athletes and Belarusians are bad people, but they have to make their position transparent. If you are against the invasion, you are welcome on the tour. If you stay silent until Ukraine surrenders, that is not acceptable,” he added.
The questions about the war continue to pour out of the Wimbledon press rooms in the final week. As Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, former ranked 3 in the WTA, kept winning matches at Wimbledon.
In the round of 16, the entire Court 1 booed her rival Victoria Azarenka after the Belarus-born respected Svitolina’s decision of not shaking hands in the net. The WTA came up with an statement regarding the situation, discribed as “unfair” by Azarenka.
WTA Statement on post-match handshakes:
Following the unfortunate circumstances and misunderstanding in yesterday’s match at @Wimbledon (along with other matches the past several weeks), the WTA would like to provide clarity around post-match handshakes.
Due to the ongoing…
— wta (@WTA) July 10, 2023
“It’s good to have this statement. I really hope that nobody else will face this reaction from the crowd”, said Sabalenka after defeating Madison Keys.
Both Sabalenka and Svitolina are just one win away from meeting in the London final. A scenario that could overflow with tension.