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WTA Warns Potapova for Wearing Moscow Team Soccer Shirt

By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Thursday, March 16, 2023

A top tiff is the latest sign of growing tension on the WTA Tour.

Russian player Anastasia Potapova was "formally warned" by the WTA after repeatedly wearing a Moscow Spartak soccer team jersey on social media.

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The Russian flag, symbols and branding are banned on the pro tour in condemnation of Russia's unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine. At the Australian Open in January, a small group of fans waving Russian flags and pro war symbols were booted from the Melbourne major.

“Regarding the Russian soccer team shirt, the WTA has formally warned the player that this was not acceptable nor an appropriate action," WTA spokesperson Amy Binder told CNN. “We do not expect to see any reoccurrence of this in the future.”

Potapova posted this image of her wearing the Moscow Spartak soccer jersey while on court at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Potapova said she's been a fan of the club since age 13 and does not mean offense wearing the shirt.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek said Potapova's public support sends the wrong message at a time when Ukrainians have been suffering death and destruction from the attack for more than a year. 

"To be honest, I was surprised," told the media when asked about Potapova wearing the jersey. "I though the player realized that she should not, even if she is a fan of the team, show her views in this way at such times."

The WTA's statement on Potapova comes two days after Swiatek called out both the Tour and players themselves to do more to support Ukrainian players.

Swiatek's strong stand came after she was asked her reaction to the Lesia Tsurenko case.

Ukrainian Tsurenko withdrew from Indian Wells prior to her scheduled match vs. Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka saying she suffered a panic attack after hearing WTA Chief Steve Simon's statements on Russian players.

“There is a lot of tension in the locker room that – well, obviously it's going to be there, because there is a war,” Swiatek said. “But maybe it should be a little bit less if WTA put some action at the beginning to kind of explain to everybody what is right and what is not.

“I totally understand why she withdrew, because honestly, like, I respect Ukrainian girls like so much, because if like a bomb landed in my country or if my home was destroyed, I don't know if I could handle that, honestly, and play on WTA and compete.”

Tsurenko was quoted by Ukrainian media as saying she was "absolutely shocked" by comments from WTA CEO Simon.  

“He told me that he himself does not support the war, but if the players from Russia and Belarus support it, then this is only their own opinion, and the opinion of other people should not upset me," Tsurenko was quoted as saying. "At the same time, he noted that if this happened to him and he was in my place, he would feel terrible."

Asked his reaction to the ongoing issue, Russian Daniil Medvedev told the media in Indian Wells: “I definitely do feel sorry for all the Ukrainian players.”

The 2021 US Open champion said he does believe players have a responsibility to use their platforms to take a stand on the war. Medvedev called for peace.

“Talking about top players, of course we have a responsibility, and it depends how every person, individual, will do with it and will hold with it," Medvedev said. "I always said the same, I'm for peace all over the world, to be honest, and that's all.”

Three-time Grand Slam champion Swiatek, who raised nearly one-half million dollars for Ukraine with an offseason exhibition event, said pros have a responsibility to speak out.

“We should more focus on helping Ukrainian players and providing them everything that they need, because they basically have to take care of like all their families, and there's a lot of baggage on their shoulders,” Swiatek said, adding: “I'll try to kind of help with that as well, because I guess with everything that is happening, the actions that were taken up to this point were, I don't think they were enough.

“I think we all have the responsibility to kind of show the right example and right things. You know, I don't have influence on some people's values, but I think we are the ones that should set a good example. There is a responsibility on each of us.”

Photo credit: Anastasia Potapova Instagram