Russian, Belarusian players denied entry for Prague WTA event

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech police stopped a Russian tennis player from entering the country ahead of the WTA Prague Open tournament, organisers said on Friday, as a new government resolution banning athletes from Russia or Belarus caused the event to scratch other competitors.

The Prague Open starts on Monday and was expected to see a handful of Russian and Belarusian players, including Evgeniya Rodina of Russia or Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, competing as neutrals, without any national flag or symbol.

But the government approved a resolution at the end of June banning athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing in events on Czech territory, allowing police to revoke visas to those nationals.

Tournament director Miroslav Maly said police had stopped one Prague Open participant from entering the country on Thursday and organisers informed other Russian and Belarusian nationals not to travel for the tournament after the incident.

“She was the first participant to arrive to the Czech Republic with a Russian passport,” Maly said, adding she had already left the country.

“The management of the tournament fully respect the current stance of state authorities. We do not expect any player with Russian or Belarusian citizenship to take part in the tournament in this situation.”

The WTA had no immediate comment.

Czech world number 29 Marie Bouzkova, who lost to compatriot and eventual champion Marketa Vondrousova at this month’s Wimbledon, won the Prague Open in 2022 and will defend her title. The tournament will also feature China’s Zhu Lin and Zhang Shuai and France’s Alize Cornet among the top seeds.

Czech police had planned to make sure the government resolution was upheld for the tournament, a police spokesperson told CTK news agency on Thursday.

A week ago, Polish authorities also denied entry to Russian tennis player Vera Zvonareva, a 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, for reasons of state security and public safety.

Central and eastern Europe states have been some of Ukraine’s staunchest allies since Russia invaded the country in February 2022.

Since June 2022, the Czech government has stopped issuing long-term visa to Russian citizens, who can gain entry only through short-term visas if they have relatives with European Union citizenship or are seeking entry on humanitarian grounds.

(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Additional reporting by Anita Kobylinska in Gdansk; Editing by Christian Radnedge)