Several WNBA players currently competing in Russia are making plans to leave the country as a safety precaution following the invasion of Ukraine, multiple agents told ESPN on Sunday.
The majority of the WNBA's players compete overseas in the winter months, with several league standouts in Russia. Typically, some players are there as late as April or early May. The 2022 WNBA season begins May 6.
Agents asked that their clients who are in Russia not be identified at this point for safety reasons.
Longtime agent Mike Cound explained to ESPN that he had experience himself with needing to be evacuated from overseas, which came when he was working for the United States government during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Cound put together a document explaining the current situation for his clients, who also shared it with other players.
"For me, it's way past 'considering' leaving," Cound told ESPN on Sunday. "I've been on the phone with two players in the past few minutes working out flights. It's really urgent now in terms of there being a dwindling number of flights leaving Russia, and they are going to be hard to get real soon. They are probably fine if they stay put, but if things get worse, that may not be the case. My idea is, 'Get them out now if we can.' And if we can't, we get them to hunker down and stay safe."
Cound said some players might be moving to play for other teams in Europe.
Other agents also said Sunday they are working on plans to help clients leave Russia or are having serious discussions about it. One agent said her clients would wait until Monday to make a decision, but she expects they will leave. Most said they don't think the players are in immediate danger but that if the situation worsens, they could be or might be unable to leave at that point.
The WNBA and players' union released statements last week about being in constant communication with players and agents about the situation.
"The few WNBA players who were competing this off-season in Ukraine are no longer in the country," the WNBA said Thursday. "The league has also been in contact with WNBA players who are in Russia, either directly or through their agents. We will continue to closely monitor the situation."
When asked whether the league was advising players to leave Russia, a WNBA spokesman said the league did not want to expand further on its statement.
The union said it also has been monitoring the situation.
"We have been in constant communication with our members and their representatives for several weeks, and we'll continue to stay abreast of current events," the union said in a statement on Thursday. "We are the union for the 144 all year round, and their safety is the highest concern.
"We shared information and advisories from credible news sources and urged them to make a plan that included connecting with embassies/consulates and the U.S. State Department's SMART traveler program."
The United States embassy in Moscow sent out a security alert on Sunday that said, "An increasing number of airlines are cancelling flights into and out of Russia, and numerous countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines. U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available."
That followed a Jan. 23 advisory from the state department that warned Americans against traveling to Russia because of "the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens, the embassy's limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law."