Does Aryna Sabalenka deserve to play Paris Olympics?

The choice to play Paris is borderline: I'll explain the reasons

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Does Aryna Sabalenka deserve to play Paris Olympics?
© Clive Brunskill / Staff Getty Images Sport

I want to start the article with a premise that I believe is fundamental. I have enormous respect for Aryna Sabalenka, as a woman, as an athlete and as a person. She is a very strong athlete and a very courageous woman.

She proved it once again, taking the court in Miami. I have always written it in my articles, I have always defended it from criticism. But, regarding her participation in the Paris Olympics, there are some considerations and evaluations to be made.

Russian and Belarusian athletes admitted under neutral flags to the next Paris Olympics will not be able to participate in the parade during the opening ceremony on July 26. Participation on an individual basis was linked to some conditions. Competing under the Olympic flag rather than the national one, not being affiliated with the army or secret services and never having publicly supported the invasion of Ukraine.

After the attack on February 24, 2022, Russia and Belarus were excluded from most international sports competitions. The IOC has also provided very precise guidelines in this regard.

Can Aryna Sabalenka be considered a tennis player eligible to play at the Paris Olympics?

In 2023 Sabalenka asked the media to no longer ask her questions about the war between Russia and Ukraine during press conferences. Only once she siad she was against wars, but she did not mention the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

There are many other tennis players, such as Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Daria Kasatkina, all Russian, who have always opposed the war in Ukraine and on more than one occasion, unlike what Sabalenka did.

Last year, Aryna was harshly criticized by several colleagues for never having explicitly said that she was against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In my opinion, the Belarusian's situation is borderline: currently I believe, and it is my personal opinion, that she should play in the Paris Olympics. She never mentioned the war between Russia and Ukraine, but she said she was against any form of war and violence.

In my opinion this could be enough, even if there are other considerations to be made. In fact, thinking about how she asked last year to avoid questions about the war and, in general, how she carefully avoided talking about the war, it would be - on the other hand - coherent for her to decide not to participate in the Olympic tournament (even if I repeat and underline that in my opinion you should participate), leaving room for those who have always opposed the opposition to the war with their words. As did Medvedev, Rublev or Kasatkina.

Sabalenka: triumphs and problems

The Australian Open champion doesn't just have to deal with the Russian-Ukrainian war issue. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, Sabalenka decided to speak out after the death of Konstantin Koltsov, ex-boyfriend and Belarusian ice hockey player.

The causes of his death have not yet been ascertained, but the Miami police spoke of an alleged suicide. The police department told CNN that firefighters and patrol were asked to reach the St. Regis Bal Harbor Resort, 9703 Collins Avenue, to rescue a man who jumped from a balcony.

Some negative comments have invaded the web even in a delicate moment like this without considering that each person processes grief in a completely personal way. The Belarusian thus spoke - albeit through social media - for the first time after the death of Konstantin Koltsov, asking for respect for the privacy of all the people involved in this tragedy.

"Konstantin's death is an unthinkable tragedy, and even though we were no longer together, I am heartbroken. Please respect my privacy and that of his family during this difficult time," wrote Sabalenka on her Instagram account.

Jimmy Connors, in his podcast Advantage Connors, defended the Belarusian player and explained that people don't know what the former WTA number one is really going through.

"With all due respect, there are some topics where people should keep their comments to themselves. Unless you're actually in her shoes and know her thoughts, it's best to avoid certain statements.

We are talking about a devastating story and only you can decide how to take it. She would have been criticized even if she had decided to withdraw from the tournament, because people are like that. Back in the day, when I was playing, tennis was a great escape for me.

When you're going through a tough time, playing games gives you a chance to have a mental break. It distracts you from everything that happens off the field. It's her choice. My thoughts go out to her," he analyzed.

Aryna Sabalenka Olympics