Former World No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov says if he were faced with the dilemma of playing in the Olympics under a neutral flag or refusing to play for the national team, he would play under the neutral flag. The Russian was speaking after WADA announced a four-year ban on Russia, which includes the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In an interview to Gotennis.ru Kafelnikov says, "If I faced such a dilemma: to go to the Olympics under a neutral flag or refuse to play for the national team, I would go under a neutral flag. For any self-respecting athlete, the Olympic Games are a priority.
And still, your compatriots know about you, they know that you are “ours”, even if you appear under a neutral flag. But Russian athletes will be deprived of the opportunity to fly under the national flag, and this is a big frustration for them."
The two-time Grand Slam champion, now 45 years old, also said that the stigma of doping would be difficult to wash off for Russian sports. “The use of doping is a stigma that will be very difficult to wash off. There can be nothing worse than doping in the world sports community, and I don’t know how long it will take the Russian state to wash it off.
There was a doping system in Russia, I have no doubt about it. Someone must be punished for this. Russian sports could have a reputation if those people, a group of people who started all this, just went out and said: "Yes, I messed up, please forgive me."
I am sure that then, in this case, there could be some relief for Russian athletes. But no one wants to take responsibility for this. As a result, everything is shifted to poor athletes. I can only sympathize with those of our athletes who could really claim medals, who could hear the anthem of our country, but now they will be deprived of this opportunity.
Because you know that for any athlete, especially speaking in an Olympic sport, the Olympic start is important. Because this start is every four years, and no one knows what will happen during this time. For many athletes, this is the last Olympics in their careers.
The Minister of Sports of Russia has an understanding of what is happening because he himself is an Olympic champion. But I think that in this situation he is just a hostage to the system. And I really sympathize with him. And, unfortunately, innocent athletes became victims: I am sure that most of them are honest and decent people and have nothing to do with doping.
I can definitely say this to my colleagues, tennis players. Now it’s absolutely hard for them to go to the Olympic Games and perform under a neutral flag, and they have suffered absolutely undeservedly. Other sports also have athletes who have nothing to do with doping."