Svitolina hopes Ukraine will not have to boycott Paris Games

Feb 8 (Reuters) - Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina said on Wednesday she hoped her country would not have to follow through on its threat to boycott the 2024 Olympics over the participation of Russians and Belarusians as neutrals.

Russians have competed as neutrals in the past three Olympics as punishment for state-backed doping, but Ukraine hopes to secure widespread international support for banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Paris Games.

The two nations have been banned from many international sporting competitions since the invasion of Ukraine almost a year ago, but the International Olympic Committee has opened the door for them to compete as neutrals in Paris.

Athletes from Russia and its close ally Belarus compete as individual competitors without any national affiliation on the WTA and ATP tours, although they were barred by Wimbledon.

Svitolina said she would not be happy to see Russian and Belarusian athletes compete at the Olympics and hailed Wimbledon for sending the right message with its ban, a decision which was condemned by the men's and women's tours.

"This is the right way because when the war is still here and people are still dying because of the Russian army, we can't go and lead normal lives like nothing is happening," Svitolina told Reuters.

"In tennis there was no action taken. They put them under a neutral flag ... I hope we don't have to make this decision of boycotting the Olympics."

Russia denies committing atrocities and targeting civilians in Ukraine and has said that attempts to ban its athletes from international sports are "doomed to fail."

Svitolina, who was visiting Ukraine for the first time since the start of the war, said she was saddened to see the destruction and the suffering of people, including athletes, some of whom she said had been killed fighting.

"Our athletes aren't training in good conditions. Almost all sports venues have been destroyed," she said.

Svitolina said Ukrainian athletes should be united in their decision on the Olympics. Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk has said any medals won by Russia in Paris would be tainted by the blood of his countrymen.

Svitolina, married to fellow player Gael Monfils, reached a career-high ranking of number three in 2017 but has not played since giving birth to her daughter last year.

"Right now I'm taking one day at a time, getting stronger, training hard and looking forward to getting back on court," she said.

Reporting by Sergiy Karazy in Kyiv; Writing by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, Editing by Kylie MacLellan

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