Women’s tennis chiefs on Monday pleaded with spectators to show “understanding and respect” when Ukraine players refuse to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian opponents in protest at the ongoing war in their country. The WTA, which runs the women’s game, became the first governing body to acknowledge demands that they publically explain the reasons for the stance.
Earlier on Monday, Aryna Sabalenka backed Elina Svitolina’s call for officials to respond to help shield players from “so much hate”. Victoria Azarenka, from Belarus, was booed off the court following her defeat by Ukraine’s Svitolina at Wimbledon on Sunday.
As has become common, Svitolina did not shake hands with Azarenka in protest over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Belarus is a key military ally of Moscow. Azarenka, who held her hand up in the direction of Svitolina, seemingly in a gesture of respect, left the court to a chorus of boos from some sections of the crowd.
The two-time Australian Open champion said her treatment “wasn’t fair. If people are going to be focusing only on handshakes or the crowd, quite drunk crowd, booing in the end, that’s a shame.”
Svitolina and her fellow Ukraine players all refused to shake hands with Russians and Belarusians at the recent French Open. She called on the sport’s governing bodies to explain the position of Ukraine players.
“I don’t know if it’s maybe not clear for people, some people not really knowing what is happening,” she said. Belarusian second seed Sabalenka, who beat Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova on Monday to reach the quarter-finals, backed Svitolina’s call.
As Elina said, I think someone has to come out on social media with the announcement that there is not going to be a handshake so players will not leave the court with so much hate,” she said. It would be good for the crowd to actually know what’s going on. There is a reason behind no handshake.”
Hours later the WTA, describing the war as “reprehensible”, said they respected the position of the Ukrainian players as it is a “personal decision”.
“We have some of the best fans in the world and are grateful for their passion and dedication, and we thank them for their understanding and respect for the athletes,” they said in a statement. Men’s third seed Daniil Medvedev said it was a “pity” that Azarenka was booed.
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