Ashraf Ali Siddiqui describes a stand taken by a premier tournament
It was on the cards that Wimbledon bars Russian players Western world would employ any avenue to penalize Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. It was accordingly expected that the sports arena would also chip in and show its anger on the bloody invasion. In this context Wimbledon disallowed Russian and Belarusian players to compete at Wimbledon this year. Wimbledon runs from 27 June to 10 July, 2022. The most affected of this decision would be Men’s world number two Daniil Medvedev of Russia and women’s world number four Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus who are also banned from any of the UK grass-court tournaments. Explaining its decision, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said it had a responsibility to limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible. It added that in the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players, therefore, it is their intention to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to Wimbledon.
However this decision was declared unfair by the governing bodies of men’s and women’s professional tennis. The men’s body, the ATP, said it could set a damaging precedent for the game while the women’s body, the WTA, said it was very disappointed. Djokovic, the men’s world number one, added that the players, the tennis players, the athletes have nothing to do with war. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good. Martina Navratilova, who won a record nine Wimbledon singles titles, said excluding Russian and Belarusian players was not the way to go.
The players who are affected by this decision includes Sabalenka who reached the semi-finals of last year’s tournament, while Medvedev, who has been announced as one of the star draws at the grass-court warm-up event in the Netherlands today, reached the fourth round. Russian world number 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – who called for the war to stop earlier this year – and 18th-ranked Victoria Azarenka of Belarus will also miss out. Russia’s Andrey Rublev is eighth in the men’s standings, with compatriot Karen Khachanov 26th. Ukrainian world number 25 Elina Svitolina released a lengthy statement calling on tennis’ governing bodies to take a harsher stance against Russian and Belarusian athletes. Olga Savchuk, who captained Ukraine in last week’s Billie Jean King Cup tie against the US, said Russian players should be banned from competing. Ukrainian former world number 13 Alexandr Dolgopolov thanked Wimbledon for stepping up and showing the world an example. Interestingly, these players will all still be able to play at the French Open, which begins in May. Players from both countries have been allowed to compete on the tennis tour but not under their national flags.
The AELTC is also working to withdraw TV rights from companies broadcasting in Russia and Belarus. Although the AELTC statement says the decision could be overturned if circumstances change materially between now and June, that is considered very unlikely. Russia was previously banned from defending its Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup team titles after the country’s invasion of Ukraine – a military operation supported by Belarus. The ATP and the WTA have suspended their combined event scheduled to take place in Moscow in October. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has also cancelled its events in the country.
A Wimbledon bars Russian players large majority of players have been happy with this stance up until now but given the scale of what has been happening in Ukraine, and taking into account British public sentiment, the AELTC felt it had no alternative. And this with the possibility of legal repercussions in mind as the LTA has contracts in place with the ATP and the WTA for the grass-court events they stage at venues such as Queen’s and Eastbourne in June. TW