Ukraine’s Kostyuk irked by IOC view on Russians

BERLIN — Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk says it was wrong for International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach to argue that Russian and Belarusian athletes can return to international competitions because they already compete without friction in some sports.

Bach had used Kostyuk’s victory over Russia’s Varvara Gracheva in the ATX Open final earlier this month to reinforce his point Tuesday.

“We have a ranking system in our sport. If I don’t participate, I will lose my ranking and my career will be over,” Kostyuk said Wednesday in a conference call with Olympic champions and other international athletes who oppose the readmission of Russia and Belarus.

Kostyuk snubbed her opponent after her win, refusing to shake the Russian’s hand.

“A lot has been said, and I wanted to say from myself, we have not been doing it publicly, but for the last year we have been fighting to exclude Russians and Belarusians from our sport,” Kostyuk said. “Unfortunately we are not independent players. We are working for WTA and ATP organizations, and we do not have a lot of power to make changes.”

Fellow Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko said every match against Russians or Belarusians was an ordeal.

“It is an ethical conflict every time we play against them,” Tsurenko said. “It affected me so that I had kind of panic attacks.”

Athletes from Russia and Belarus were banned from most international competitions last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Tuesday, the IOC issued guidelines to allow for their return to world sport, saying they would do so as neutral athletes, without a flag, emblem or anthem.

The IOC cited human rights concerns for Russian athletes and the current participation of Russians and Belarusians in some sports as reasons for the decision.

The guidelines have angered both sides of the issue. Ukraine’s sports ministry issued a statement Wednesday saying it “condemns the partial change of the position of the International Olympic Committee,” while Russia said any move to deprive athletes of their national symbols is discriminatory.

German fencer Lea Krueger called the situation a “mess.”

“How can they [Russians and Belarusians] come back. We don’t know if Olympic qualification will work. What about doping?” Krueger said. “How can a Ukrainian compete against a Russian athlete. Don’t forget we have weapons in our hands.”

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