Differing treatment of “Russian” tennis players sparks questions

International headlines were made at the weekend when Czech police stopped a Russian player from entering the country to appear at a tennis tournament. However on Monday the police said they would take no action against players with Russian passports taking part in a different competition. Why the discrepancy?

Czechia’s biggest tennis event, the Prague Open, is currently taking place in the capital.

Liudmila Samsonova | Photo: Howard Fendrich,  ČTK/AP

However the start of the women’s tournament was rather overshadowed by events surrounding Russian and Belarusian players who had registered to participate.

Last Friday the police refused to allow a Russian player to enter Czechia, prompting organisers to say no citizens of either state would be taking part in the Prague Open.

This was said to be in line with Czech government regulations imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine, and despite the fact they were set to appear in the WTA event under a neutral flag.

On Monday the matter took another twist. There were reports that the Czech police had checked the papers of players with Russian passports at an ATP Challenger Tour tennis event in Liberec at the weekend and found no grounds for expelling them from the country.

But why the discrepancy in the way the different players have been treated by the Czech authorities?

Ivo Kaderka | Photo: Kristýna Hladíková,  Český rozhlas

Ivo Kaderka, the president of the Czech Tennis Association, told Czech Radio the migration police had done nothing wrong in OKing the players to continue at the Liberec men’s tournament – and referred to one player in particular.

“They followed the law, because it was a completely different situation than in the case of those girls. The guy is actually Ukrainian. Unfortunately he lives in a territory occupied by the Russians. When he was 14 he played for the Ukrainian national team, even in the Czech Republic. Russian aggressors occupied his homeland in Crimea and he ended up with a Russian passport.”

The director of the Liberec tournament said that the second player concerned had been living in Italy for eight years and had applied for Italian citizenship.

Photo: Анна Тис,  Pexels

Meanwhile the National Sports Agency, a Czech government body, said that a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes only applied to representatives of their countries, which tennis players are not, as they play under neutral status at tournaments, without national symbols.

This last assertion would seem to undermine the reasons for stopping the Russian female player from entering the Czech capital for the Prague Open.

Incidentally the WTA condemned the Czech authorities move in that case, saying it contravened its principle of allowing players to compete on merit alone, without discrimination.

This statement prompted strong words from ex-ice hockey star Dominik Hašek, who had been pushing for a ban on the Russian and Belarusian players.

He said on social media that the WTA was “lying” and that the players did represent the actions of their countries, meaning war, murder and crimes including genocide.