Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Ukrainian Tennis Star Elina Svitolina Calls on WTA to Neutralize Russian Flags: ‘This Is My Mission'

Svitolina was willing to forfeit a match against Russia's Anastasia Potapova unless changes were made

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Editor's Note: The WTA and other international governing bodies of tennis announced on Tuesday afternoon that players from Russia and Belarus "will not compete under the name or flag of Russia or Belarus until further notice." Elena Svitolina told ITV News that she would play her match against Anastasia Potapova this evening under those conditions.

Ukrainian tennis star Elina Svitolina says she refuses to step foot on a tennis court if there’s any Russian or Belarusian representation on the other side of the net. 

The 27-year-old, ranked No. 15 in the world, is the top seed in the WTA 250 in Monterrey, Mexico, and was “shocked” to have drawn Russia’s Anastasia Potapova in the first round of the event. 

“To be fair, I didn't really think about the tournament at all … then when the draw came out, I was shocked,” Svitolina told NBC Sports. “Straight away I had a thought that it's impossible that I go on court seeing a Russian flag in front of me.”

On Monday afternoon, Svitolina released a statement announcing she would not play in the event or any other match against an opponent from Russia or Belarus until the WTA classifies Russian and Belarusian players "as neutral athletes."

The event, which features three Russian tennis players in the draw, has the match scheduled for Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.

After the draw was released, Svitolina said she immediately reached out to Potapova’s team to propose the Russian play under a neutral flag. Because she never heard back, she reached out to the WTA and the organization claims it is making a “call to action” during a meeting Monday night.

“Many industries made the move, like football, as I say, FIFA made the move – now every Russian is playing under a neutral flag,” Svitolina said. “So why not the tennis community? … I'm Ukrainian and feel like this is my mission to do the same thing for tennis.”

On Monday, the International Olympic Committee urged sports bodies to exclude the country's athletes and officials from events. The IOC said it was needed to “protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants.”

Svitolina, who was last in her country in December, says she does not blame Russian athletes for the invasion happening in her motherland but expects changes to be made.

In response to Svitolina's statement, Potapova released her own announcement on social media. The 20-year-old said she is "against grief, tears and war."

Svitolina, who had not heard the statement from Potapova until the interview, revealed that she was happy to have heard some sort of message but said “if you don't give up your flag, it means you are supporting your country.”

Svitolina has her family and friends back home in Ukraine and makes an effort to be there for them as much as possible, even if she can’t be there physically.

“We're not talking about tennis anymore,” Svitolina said. “There are some people who are dying, so we are talking worldwide.”

Previously, Svitolina wrote a love letter to Ukraine and pledged to give tournament prize money to support the army and humanitarian needs.

The WTA did not immediately respond to NBC Sports’ request for comment.

Click here for complete coverage of the crisis in Ukraine.

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