Tours says Wimbledon is setting a 'damaging precedent' by banning Russian and Belarusian players

Professional tennis, which had been unusually united of late, is back at odds after Wimbledon’s bold and difficult decision to exclude R...


Professional tennis, which had been unusually united of late, is back at odds after Wimbledon’s bold and difficult decision to exclude Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament was strongly frowned upon by both the men’s and women’s tours. .

For just over 50 days, the ATP, WTA, International Tennis Federation and all four Grand Slam tournaments have all agreed that the appropriate response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the support of Belarus, was to ban Russia and Belarus from team events, but allow their players to continue to compete as individuals, but without national identification.

But Wimbledon, under pressure from the UK government, broke ranks on Wednesday, and Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association has also confirmed that it does not plan to allow players from Russia and Belarus to take part in the grass circuit which precedes Wimbledon and includes events in Eastbourne and the Queen’s Club in London.

“Given the profile of the Championships in the UK and around the world, it is our responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit the global influence of Russia by the most powerful means possible,” Wimbledon said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Under the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players in the championships.”

Wimbledon, the oldest Grand Slam tournament, is set to start at the end of June, and although the ATP and WTA have limited leverage over Wimbledon, which operates independently, the tours could respond by reducing or removing ranking points. of the event. Individual players could also take legal action.

The WTA said it was “very disappointed” with Wimbledon’s decision, while the ATP, in a separate statement, called it “unfair” and said it had “the potential to set a precedent harmful to the game”.

“Individual athletes should not be penalized or prevented from competing because of their origin or the decisions made by the governments of their countries,” the WTA said. “Discrimination, and the decision to focus such discrimination against athletes who compete alone as individuals, is neither fair nor justified.”

Martina Navratilova, one of the sport’s greatest champions, said in an interview: “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do” and argued that even though Ukrainians are the victims of this war, banning Russian and Belarusian players suffer from it, too.

But some former and current Ukrainian players, including Alexandr Dolgopolov, a retired player now serving in the Ukrainian military, welcomed the move. The question is whether, in light of Russia’s brutal invasion, there would be enough support from the entire gaming community for strong countermeasures in favor of their Russian and Belarusian colleagues. .

Wimbledon, in its statement, left open the possibility of revising its position, stating that “if circumstances change materially by June, we will review and react accordingly.” But that would likely force the British government to soften its stance or require a quick resolution of the war in favor of Ukraine, which seems highly unlikely.

The ban would prevent some highly ranked players from competing. Four Russian men are ranked in the top 30 on the ATP Tour, including No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who is the defending US Open men’s singles champion, although he is recovering from hernia surgery. Russia has five women in the top 40 of the WTA Tour rankings, led by 15th-placed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus is ranked No. 4 and was a Wimbledon semi-finalist last year.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary, expressed dismay at the ban. “Our players are among the best in the world rankings and therefore the tournaments will suffer from their suspension,” Peskov told reporters during a regular briefing. “Once again, it is unacceptable to hold athletes hostage to political bias, intrigue and actions hostile to our country.”

ATP and WTA officials expressed support for Ukraine, but argued that Russian and Belarusian players should not be blamed for their country’s invasion or politics and noted that several Top players, including Russian stars Andrey Rublev, ranked No. 8 in the men’s singles and Pavlyuchenkova made clear her opposition to war.

“Of course it’s very tragic, what’s happening in the world,” Yevgeny Kafelnikov, a Russian ranked No. 1 in singles in the late 1990s, said in an interview from Moscow. “I am totally shocked by what is happening, but holding people like Medvedev, Rublev and Pavlyuchenkova hostage, I think is wrong. And knowing what kind of position they’ve taken before when it all started, I think Wimbledon made a mistake on this one. They went a bit too far.

But while there are questions as to why the sports world bans athletes in this case after refusing to do so in many previous disputes, many international sports, including athletics and figure skating, excluded Russian and Belarusian athletes from competitions. the Boston Marathon banned those living in Russia and Belarus from taking part in Monday’s race, facing backlash from runners who said they had no choice in where they were born. But Wimbledon ultimately decided it didn’t want to risk the optics of a Russian or Belarusian player holding up a champion’s trophy on the 100th anniversary of its iconic Center Court.

Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, said of the Wimbledon decision: “We recognize that it is hard on those affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer from the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime. “

After the invasion began in February, tennis was quick to ban the Russians and their Belarusian allies from team events like the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup, both of which were won by teams Russia in 2021. The seven governing bodies of sport announced this ban collectively on March 1.

But there had been calls for more than several former and current Ukrainian players, including rising women’s star Marta Kostyuk and former player Olga Savchuk, the captain of The Ukrainian Billie Jean King Cup teamwho faced USA in Asheville, North Carolina last week.

“It can’t just be a punishment against 90% of the Russian people and 10% no,” Savchuk said. “If you think about it, why does someone who works at McDonald’s in Russia lose their job because of the sanctions and are tennis players exceptions? It has to be equal, and I think that’s collective guilt.

Wimbledon might remain an outlier on this issue among Grand Slam tournaments. Leaders of the French Open, which begins next month and is the next Grand Slam event on the calendar, have shown some backstage resistance to Russians competing as individuals in Paris, but have made no movement towards a ban. The American Tennis Association said on Wednesday that no decision had been made regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players in this year’s US Open, which will be held in New York in late August and early September.

For now, regular touring events — like this week’s ATP event in Barcelona, ​​Spain — are running with Russians and Belarusians in their draws. But Wimbledon has come under considerable pressure from the UK government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to take a tougher stance. Wimbledon received government guidance last month recommending prospective Russian and Belarusian players provide ‘written statements’ saying they were not representing their country; not to receive public funding or sponsorship from companies with close ties to the Russian state; and did not and would not express support for the invasion of Ukraine or the leadership of their country.

Put in a difficult position, Wimbledon decided not to require players to actually denounce their governments, fearing it would put them or their families in a precarious situation. A ban, while not part of the initial thinking of Wimbledon officials, prevents players from having to make such a choice and also avoids potential controversy during the tournament related to the review of player statements.

Wimbledon did not ban individual athletes from specific countries since the aftermath of World War II when players from Germany, Japan and other nations were not allowed to participate in the tournament.

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed report.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Tours says Wimbledon is setting a 'damaging precedent' by banning Russian and Belarusian players
Tours says Wimbledon is setting a 'damaging precedent' by banning Russian and Belarusian players
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