EXCLUSIVE: Russian Anti-LGBT Laws Make Journalists Think Twice About Covering Daria Kasatkina - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Russian Anti-LGBT Laws Make Journalists Think Twice About Covering Daria Kasatkina



Daria Kasatkina has been a prominent figure in Russian tennis for years. 

The 26-year-old has been ranked as high as eighth in the world, reached the semi-finals of the 2022 French Open and has won six WTA titles. She was also part of the team that won the 2021 Billie Jean King Cup title, winning her singles match in the final. During the same year, she was also the first home player to win the St Petersburg Open. 

Kasatkina is also openly gay which is rare for a Russian athlete due to the authorities in the country who have in force rules prohibiting pro-LGBT gestures. The strictness of these laws has intensified so much in recent months that those working in the media now have to be cautious when covering her. 

The Professor

Alexander Kondakov is an assistant professor at the School of Sociology, University College Dublin, Ireland. Kondarov has extensively covered the case of LGBT issues in Russia with one of his publications finding that 297 people between 2011 and 2016 were victims of a hate crime based on their sexuality with 122 of those being killed. It is important to note that there is no official count kept by authorities and his findings don’t include Chechnya’s alleged purge of gay people. He Is also the author of the book, Violent Affections: Queer sexuality, techniques of power, and law in Russia

To understand the predicament Kasatkina is in, you have to look at what has happened over the past decade in her home country. In 2013 Russia banned the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships and (or) preferences and propaganda of sex change” to minors before expanding that ruling to the adult population in 2022. So for example, a TV channel would be liable for a fine if they broadcast a programme showing a same-sex kiss. However, President Vladamir Putin has intensified his anti-LGBT law significantly within the past couple of weeks following a high court ruling.

“It’s a Supreme Court ruling to regard the international LGBT movement as an extremist organization. This is done in response to the Ministry of Justice’s request. This means that the ministry is interested in applying this definition in its everyday work,” Kondakov explained to Ubitennis.
“The court’s ruling relates to a much more dangerous law than the gay propaganda; it is the law on extremism. If gay propaganda is just an administrative regulation aiming at censorship of information, the extremism law is a criminal statute. This criminal law applies to people who can be arrested for contributing to the dealings of any extremist movement by, for example, arguing for the rights of people associated with the movement.’

“The fact that the international LGBT movement does not actually exist makes it even more dangerous because anything can be considered an international LGBT movement in this case.”

The journalist 

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It is the ambiguity that is perhaps the most difficult. For example, during Kasatkina’s 2022 interview with blogger Vitya Kravchenko when she publicly came out as gay, she touched on the subject of being LGBT in Russia.

“This notion of someone wanting to be gay or becoming [gay] is ridiculous. I think there is nothing easier in this world than being straight. Seriously, if there is a choice, no one would choose being gay. Why make your life harder, especially in Russia? What’s the point?” She said.

Under the new law, would a journalist in Russia be able to report this without any repercussions or could they be accused of promoting the so-called LGBT movement in some way?

One journalist working for a major sporting publication in Russia has agreed to speak to Ubitennis but on the condition of anonymity due to the nature of the topic. This person will be referred to as A in this article. Whilst Kasatkina is not defined by her sexuality, she and her girlfriend Natalia Zabiiako run a popular video blog that provides plenty of newsworthy articles. The two also post pictures of them together on social media. 

“On the 30th of November, Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that the “international LGBT movement” is an “extremist organization,” jeopardizing all forms of LGBT rights activism. Under Russian criminal law, participating in or financing an extremist organization is punishable by up to 12 years in prison. That’s why due to the new terrible law, now it’s risky for journalists to write anything about Kasatkina’s sexuality or relationship with Natalia Zabiyako in Russian media.” A told Ubitennis. 

“I’m working for a big Russian Sports website and we can only talk about her in the context of tennis. It’s very hard sometimes to write ONLY tennis articles because there are lots of different themes that touch on the topic of sexuality. And, unfortunately, as a journalist, I don’t feel freedom of speech. My colleagues also say that definitions of the new law are vague and indistinct, and enable the government to use them against anyone it dislikes.”

Sports.ru is one of Russia’s biggest sports websites with a following of more than 666,000 people on the social media platform VK. They used to have a tag ‘ЛГБТ’ (LGBT) on their website where users can click on it to bring up stories related to that topic. Shortly after the latest anti-LGBT ruling came into effect, that tag vanished

There is also the question of what happens in the worst-case scenario. Say Kasatkina is for some reason found guilty of breaking this LGBT movement ban, how would it affect her tennis career? Would this exclude her from receiving awards or funding from her home country?

“If we speak about her possible deprivation of the state awards or being ineligible to receive such honors in the future because of breaking the ban on LGBT propaganda, it’s better to ask Russian sports functioners (organizers) to comment on this topic cause these decisions are the responsibility of Russian sports officials and government,” A commented.

“For quite some time now, the Russian government has used the extremism law in its crackdown on political opponents. I suppose this is how the law will expand its application in relation to the LGBT community.”

How Russia is using the law

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So how is the law banning LGBT propaganda being implemented? There have been two notable examples with one of those involving Google. In December a court issued them with a fine of 4.6 billion rubles, or over $50 million, for refusing to remove what they claim is “disinformation” about the Ukraine war and hosting LGBTQ content on YouTube—which Russia now brands as “extremist.”  RIA Novosti, which is owned by the state, reported that videos on YouTube (which Google owns) “spread LGBT values” and sought to convince “minors to commit illegal actions.” 

Meanwhile, an ‘almost naked party’ held by a high-profile celebrity promoted backlash from conservatives in Russia and many attendees have since issued public apologies. Rapper Vacio was jailed for 15 days after a court ruled that he ‘violated public order, used crude obscene language and distributed publications in telegram channels aimed at promoting non-traditional sexual relationships.’ He was also fined 200,000 rubles ($2,171) for “gay propaganda.” 15 days have passed since the sentence but he received another 10-day jail term for alleged ‘disorderly conduct.’ 

Kasatkina has plenty of support

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Representing a country that deems your sexuality as inferior to heterosexuality is something that has never seemed to bother Kasatkina. She continues to express herself how she wants and there has been minimal backlash from those involved in Russian tennis. However, few speak about LGBT topics in the mass media unless they are asked to do so by those outside of Russia. 

“I’m not used to it because I’m from somewhere where, it’s, you know, not a very nice thing,” Kasatkina told Eurosport of what it was like celebrating Pride month during the 2023 French Open.

 “In Europe, I feel like it’s something bigger. I think it’s important to let people know we’re all equal and all the same. There’s no difference.” 

Kasatkina began her 2024 season at the Brisbane International where she reached the quarter-finals before losing to world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals. 


EXCLUSIVE: Wimbledon Great Billie Jean King Gives Her Verdict On Jasmine Paolini



Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss in the Royal Box - Credit: AELTC/Ben Solomon

Billie Jean King has told Ubitennis the game style of Italy’s Jasmine Paolini is ‘perfect’ for the grass as she pays tribute to the 28-year-old. 

King, who won 20 Wimbledon titles in both singles and doubles during her career, praised Paolini just hours before her semi-final match against Donna Vekic. The world No.7 had never won a match at The All England Club until this year but has stormed through the tournament by dropping one set in five matches played. She has beaten players such as former US Open champion Bianca Andreeescu, Madison Keys (who retired at 5-5 in the final set due to injury) and Emma Navarro. 

“I’ve always liked watching Jasmine for a while now, and I got to see her last year at the Billie Jean King Cup,” the 80-year-old told Ubitennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta.
“Italy lost to Canada, but I saw her there and she was amazing.
“Finally at 28, she’s she’s doing what I think she should have been doing.”

Paolini is enjoying the best season in her career. She won her first WTA 1000 title in Dubai, reached the final of the French Open and at least the semi-finals at Wimbledon. She is the oldest player on the WTA Tour to reach their first two major semi-finals since 1977, according to OptaAce. 

As for the grass, King says Paolini has a ‘perfect’ game for the surface. Even though the tennis star has previously spoken about her mixed feelings about playing on the surface. 

“On grass. She’s perfect.” King stated. 
“She’s low to the ground, she can volley, she can hit Groundstrokes. Big forehand. Unbelievable.”

Paolini is one of three women aged 28 or older to reach the last four at Wimbledon. Something that last occurred in 2018. As for the reason behind these players coming to top form at a later age, King admits she hasn’t got an explanation. 

“I have no idea.” She said
“I think she’s (Paolini) finally found herself and everybody gets to be their best at different ages.
“This year at Wimbledon, it seems like in the women’s events it’s now that they’re older, they’re doing better. So I don’t get it, to be honest.
“It’s the weirdest Wimbledon ever and I’ve been coming here since 1961!”

King has won an incredible 175 titles during her career in the Open Era. 101 of those were in doubles, 67 in singles and seven in mixed doubles.  

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EXCLUSIVE: Ex-No.1 Nenad Zimonjic Gives His Verdict On Djokovic And The Wimbledon Crowd



Novak Djokovic might be the headline act when it comes to tennis in Serbia but Nenad Zimonjic also enjoyed his fair share of success in the sport. 

The 48-year-old is a former world No.1 in the men’s doubles which makes him one of only four players from his country to have ever topped the tennis rankings. During his career, he won eight Grand Slam doubles titles with five of them occurring in the mixed doubles. Overall, he won 53 trophies on the ATP Tour, as well as the Davis Cup where he later became the captain of the Serbian team.

Zimonjic has returned to Wimbledon this year to play in the Legends event. He has been keeping an eye on compatriot Djokovic and his bid to claim a historic 25th major title at Wimbledon.

“I think he’s been playing better and better as the tournament progresses.” He told Ubitennis.
“The last match (against Holger Rune), he played the best so far.
I expect him to play even better in the quarterfinal match against Alex de Minaur.”

Whilst Djokovic is gaining momentum, he has unexpectedly taken a swipe at the Center Court crowd following his latest win on Monday evening by accusing some members of being ‘disrespectful.’ Throughout the clash, there were shouts of the words ‘ruuune’ in a show of support for his Danish opponent. However, the world No.2 believes some were using those cheers as an opportunity to take a shot at him. 

Zimonjic, who is a long-time friend of Djokovic that travelled to Monte Carlo and Rome with him earlier this year, is unable to weigh in on this particular argument. However, he defends the British crowd at The All England Club where he made 18 main draw appearances as a professional player. 

“I didn’t get to see the whole match I cannot comment (on Djokovic’s remarks) because I wasn’t there.” He said. 
“But what I can say is that the crowd here (at Wimbledon) is very knowledgeable and really respectful to everybody.
“If there was somebody (being disrespectful to Djokovic) maybe there are a couple of people.
“So you cannot say this about the crowd. I’m sure it’s nothing nothing major.”

Djokovic continues to be a dominant force in tennis at the age of 37 and has no plans to step away anytime soon. However, when he does there will inevitably be a huge gap in Serbian tennis. The country currently has five players in the ATP Top 150 but only two of those are under the age of 25 – Hamad Medjedovic (20) and Miomir Kecmanovic (24). There is also 18-year-old Marko Maksimovic who is currently ranked in the junior top 20 on the boy’s Tour. 

“Hopefully some new, really good generations are coming up. We’ll see what the future brings.” Zimonjic commented. 
“It’s not going to be easy to match any of these results and the standards that he (Djokovic) achieved and all the records speak for themselves.
“Maybe they will never be broken, but, we’ll try to make it as better as possible.”

As for life on the Tour for those players, Zimonjic admits it is tough going due to the demanding schedule which starts from January until November. However, since last year the ATP have agreed to stage their Next Gen finals, which features the eight best players under the age of 21, in December. 

The schedule has been a long-debated subject that goes back to Zimonjic’s days on the Tour. 

“Our season is probably the longest in sport.” He said.
“It’s very demanding on the body, travelling, changing the time zones so you have to be extremely fit, mentally tough, and you need a really strong team around you and family support.
“If this can change, I don’t know. So far they (tennis’ governing bodies) haven’t found a way, but, hopefully, anyway, it got shorter a little bit compared to ten years ago was even longer.
“We had maybe three weeks to prepare for the next to rest and prepare for next season, which was really brutal.
“But the good thing is that tennis is very popular and people are following it.”

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EXCLUSIVE: ‘People Are Dying Everyday’ – Elina Svitolina’s Voice Is Important For Ukraine



Elina Svitolina (UKR) playing against Magda Linette (POL) in the second round of the Ladies' Singles on No.2 Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 4 Thursday 01/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Jonathan Nackstrand

There was little celebration from Elina Svitolina after she reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon on a grave day for her home country. 

The world No.21 eased to a 6-2, 6-1, win over China’s Wang Xinyu without dropping serve, reaching the last eight of the tournament for the third time in her career. It is a huge boost for the 29-year-old who later admitted she didn’t feel like playing in the wake of a new attack against Ukraine. 

A Russian missile attack struck the country in daylight on Monday which resulted in the deaths of at least 36 people and caused significant damage to the main children’s hospital in Kyiv, according to officials. Reuters News Agency says they have a video showing a missile falling from the sky towards the children’s hospital followed by a large explosion.

“It’s an incredibly sad day today for all Ukrainians. It was really difficult for me to be here (at Wimbledon) in a way and do anything. I just wanted to be in my room, just be there with my emotions, with everything,” said Svitolina.

“Today was one of the days where it was even more difficult because the missile landed on the hospital, the kids’ hospital. Straightaway you see the images and everything that happened there. So many kids lost their lives.”

Svitolina took to the court wearing a black ribbon on her t-shirt in respect to those affected. The gesture was approved by The All England Club which usually has in place a strict all-white policy when it comes to attire. Throughout the war in Ukraine, she has spoken numerous times about the conflict and is an ambassador her the United24 fundraising platform, which was set up by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Evgeniy Zukin, who is the executive director of the Ukrainian Tennis Federation (UTF), spoke to Ubitennis following his compatriot’s latest win at SW19. He stresses the significance of Svitolina and her peers to continue speaking out about the war.

“It is important for Ukrainians to keep informing the world of the atrocities that are now happening in Ukraine,” said Zukin. 

“We know the public in the West is tired of bad news. Only disasters like today when many children were killed bring attention back to Ukraine. But unfortunately, people are dying every day and no less than today.”

Zukin’s words are also echoed by tennis journalist Sergey Kontorchik, who is the founder of Великий теніс України which is known in English as BTU. He is based in Dnipro, a city located in the centre of the Dnipropetrovsk Region which borders Donetsk. As somebody living in the conflict zone, Kontorchik is frustrated by the promotion of Russian and Belarussian athletes in the media whilst his athletes suffer. 

“No one is interested in the mental state of Ukranian players. You saw how hard it was for Svitolina after the match today,” he told Ubitennis from Dnipro on Monday afternoon.

“For Ukrainians, it is hard and it hurts. Our players receive negative criticism for not shaking hands with representatives of these countries. We are pushed to the background, far away, so as to not bring up an uncomfortable topic, the war, which continues to destroy our country.

“It is important to us (Ukrainians) when players talk and remind the world about the war, that Ukraine is still alive and continues to fight for independence. 

“It’s clear many people have forgotten.”

Wimbledon had previously banned Russian and Belarussian players from competing in the tournament in 2022 amid concerns that those governments could use the event as propaganda. The move prompted backlash from the governing bodies who removed the allocation of rankings points that year. The ban was lifted in 2023. 

“I would prefer that (the ban to still be in place) but it is how it is now,” said Svitolina. “I cannot change. We tried every possible way to talk with many organizations.

“For now I just want to raise awareness, to raise funds for people in need, to raise support for the kids through my foundation, through United24. So many ways we can help people and not only focus on the things we cannot control.”

The hope for Svitolina is that her tennis is providing comfort to those back home. Although dealing with her emotions due to the war is tough.

“I think for many Ukrainians they will share this feeling with me. We feel guilt that we feel happy or that we feel good. Not only because I’m in the quarterfinal of the Grand Slam but in everything,” she explained.

“Like you go on holidays, you feel guilty because you’re not in Ukraine. Many people cannot leave the country. Many people are at war. Many people are fighting, and defending our front lines.

“I think we’ve been living with this feeling for over two years. I mean, it’s nothing new. But yes, of course, it’s not a pleasant feeling to have.”

On court, things are going well for Svitolina. She has dropped only one set in the tournament so far, which was against Magda Linette in the first round. 

“She showed in the last year that she knows how to play on grass,” Zukin told Ubitennis about Svitolina. 

“After beating Ons Jabeur (in the third round) she felt confident and played flawlessly today.” 

Svitolina will next play Elina Rybakina. 

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