By Eurohoops team/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Mateusz Ponitka received heavy backlash from the public after returning to Zenit Saint Petersburg. Soon after, the Polish player left the team for good and held a press conference to answer all the questions and set the record straight.
“On February 24, we were all shocked to see what was happening. I was in Russia then, we were preparing for the next matches. From the beginning of the war, I was determined to end the contract. Let me remind you that it was guaranteed until 2024 on both sides. The situation in St. Petersburg was a bit strange, we didn’t feel safe and the safety of the family was important to me. We talked to the club, each day brought new information. On February 28, the club agreed to let us leave,” he said, per Onet Sport, and added a crucial explanation on the matter of his return to Russia a few days later.
“However, they expected that if the Euroleague or the VTB league continued, we would train and play. I left on March 2 and was constantly looking for a way to terminate the contract. Then there was my return to Russia. The contractual situation was not clear, so I was obliged to return to the club. After the match in Moscow, it became clear that we were not able to mentally jump over certain things. I said to the coach and to the team manager that I was not able to mentally fulfill my duties. I wanted to sit down again to talk. We finally got to the point where the club agreed to terminate the contract.”
Ponitka also made it very clear that he is against Russian aggression, he is supporting the Ukrainians, and wishes for his deeds to stay private.
“I am against Russian aggression against Ukraine. War is a tremendous evil and it shouldn’t happen. I support mentally and materially Ukraine and people related to Ukraine. I express my solidarity. We all feel the same and may the war be over quickly. I’m not doing this to make someone clap. I do this for the people I am helping. I do not do it in public and prefer not to comment on it. This will remain my private matter.”
Meanwhile, the relationships inside the locker room of Zenit must have been weird and uncomfortable, and Ponitka confirmed that.
“At first, there was a slight distance between the foreigners and the Russians. They also understood the situation. The distance was noticeable, but we are a team and we were doing our duties for a few days. If you work with someone for several years, you develop some natural relationships. The relationship has grown cold, but it’s hard to tell someone overnight: I’m not going to talk to you.”
He also explained the atmosphere in Russia, specifically when it comes to freedom of speech, which is why he didn’t want to speak publicly sooner.
“I have lived in Russia for four years. There, the issue of speaking out and taking sides is a bit different than in our country. Large portals wrote that people were arrested for protests against the war. Even in St. Petersburg, an 80-year-old war veteran was arrested. I believe that by silence I made the best decision I could regarding my safety.”
Last but definitely not least, Ponitka gave his answer to fellow countryman Marcin Gortat’s comments. Gortat was heavily criticizing Ponitka’s behavior and it also fueled further negativity in Poland towards the player.
“I heard that I lack character. I played 126 games with the national team and wanted to ask Mr. Gortat where his character was in many situations. For example, at EuroBasket 2013, when he forbade us to talk to journalists. Where was he during EuroBasket 2011, when the insurance cost of his contract was more important than playing for the Polish national team? This was perfectly emphasized by my teammate Łukasz Koszarek. ‘Marcin often repeated that he wants to be the team leader. However, he has to devote himself more to the team. If he does not, he may be named a leader for fans, sponsors, and journalists, but certainly not for the players,’ he said. Where was the character of Mr. Gortat during EuroBasket 2015, when he complained about the pressure and could not come to terms with the criticism of journalists in talks with us, with the team?” Ponitka said.