A senior Ukrainian tennis official has told his sport’s governing bodies that they will be “playing on the side of the monster” if they take action against Wimbledon and the LTA for banning Russian and Belarusian players from this summer’s events.
Evgeniy Zukin, the vice-president of Ukraine’s tennis federation, also contrasted the WTA’s strong comments during the Peng Shuai case with his response to Russia as he warned that tennis risked “being on the wrong side of history”.
Zukin said invading Russian forces had destroyed Ukraine’s national tennis center in Irpin, near Kyiv, and that there were still unexploded bombs on the courts. But he stressed that such destruction was nothing compared with the daily horrors and deaths since the invasion, as he backed Wimbledon and the LTA’s stance.
“Of course they have made the right decision, and I’m really surprised that the ATP, WTA and a lot of the tennis community don’t understand that. It is accepted that we apply economic sanctions on the nation which started this war, unprovoked with hundreds of war crimes, even though not every Russian is for it. And in sport it cannot be business as usual either.
“If the ATP and WTA share in the values of a free world, of independence and sovereignty, they need to do something in order to stop the monster. Otherwise they will be playing on the side of the monster.”
Those critical of the decision to ban Russians have included Martina Navratilova and Novak Djokovic, while the WTA and the ATP have accused Wimbledon and the LTA of discrimination. However, Zukin said it was a legitimate response given how much Putin’s regime has used sport as a propaganda tool.
“Tennis keeps telling itself it is not responsible. But as long as it allows Russians to play, even without a flag, they are promoting the country,” he said. “And if a Russian won Wimbledon or Queens or whatever, would he be put forward by the Russian government as another show of dominance? I don’t have any doubts about this. Because politics and sport in Russia are absolutely mixed.
“When Putin met Russia’s sports stars at the Kremlin on Tuesday he told them: ‘You are on the frontline of our fight for our values.’ So we can’t close our eyes.
“I love watching Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev play. But when you think about the women and children who are suffering, and experiencing things that you could just imagine in your worst nightmares, it is wrong to allow Russians to play on the professional tour and promote their system. It is just not the time.”
The WTA and ATP are expected to hold meetings at the Madrid Open this week as they decide on their next steps. The tours could theoretically opt for the radical response of withholding ranking points for this year’s Wimbledon.
However, Zukin said that any sanctions would put tennis on the wrong side of history just months after it made the decision to withdraw from China after Peng Shuai’s disappearance. “There’s an absolute contradiction between Peng Shuai and what is happening with Russia,” he said.
“For WTA it was hard to pull out of China, but it was the right thing to do. However, what Russia is doing is even more obvious, but they are focusing more on putting sanctions on Wimbledon and the LTA, who are doing the right thing. This just blows my mind.”
Zukin said that while Ukraine’s national tennis center had been destroyed, he was thankful that none of the staff had been killed. “On some photographs you can see tank tracks. And there are still bombs on the tennis courts which did not explode. And all the houses around there are severely damaged.
“But thankfully all our employees are safe, as we closed down on 24 February. We didn’t try to save anything and we sent all the people home. The center is all destroyed but doesn’t matter – because our people aren’t hurt.”