Wimbledon considers climbdown over Russian and Belarusian player ban after $1m ATP fine

Daniil Medvedev - Wimbledon considers climbdown over Russian and Belarusian player ban after $1m ATP fine - John Walton/PA
Daniil Medvedev - Wimbledon considers climbdown over Russian and Belarusian player ban after $1m ATP fine - John Walton/PA

The All England Club are considering a reversal of their ban on Russians and Belarusians playing at Wimbledon.

Officially, the AELTC position is that a decision has yet to be taken over who will be invited to next summer’s Wimbledon. But Telegraph Sport understands that there is little appetite within the club to continue what has been a bruising battle with the wider tennis world.

It comes as the tennis establishment ramps up its sanctions against the British game, with the men’s tour announcing a $1 million (£821,050) fine over their policy on the war in Ukraine.

Wimbledon was forced to go ahead without rankings points this summer after the men’s and women’s tours both objected to what they argued was a discriminatory ban. Although the tournament remained competitive, it was clearly diminished as a result.

Players who performed strongly – including British No 1 Cameron Norrie and the Russian-born Kazakh Elena Rybakina – had to put up with the fact that their results on Centre Court earned them zero benefit on the rankings ladder.

This is not a sustainable position, and some members of the AELTC hierarchy are understood to feel concerned that a second year of the ban would lock them in for as long as the conflict in the Ukraine continues.

Another argument for détente is that, despite the continuing presence of Russians and Belarusians in every tennis tournament beyond these shores, there has been no pro-Putin demonstration in the manner of the gymnast who wore a “Z” emblem on his shirt while receiving a medal in May.

This is understood to have been one of the primary concerns that the government expressed in the spring, while leaning heavily on the AELTC to set up the ban. The club bowed to the pressure this year, but will be reluctant to do so again in view of the unexpected strength of the backlash.

The tours continue to persecute British tennis as a whole, with the LTA receiving a $1 million fine from the ATP on Wednesday to go with the $750,000 (£615,787) penalty that was levied by the WTA in July. To drive home the message, the ATP also threatened to cancel the LTA’s membership – thereby excommunicating British tennis – if the ban of Russian and Belarusian players were to be repeated in 2023.

In a statement, the LTA said that they were considering their options over a possible appeal, adding that they were “deeply disappointed” at a sanction that will force them to cut back their professional tournament programme next year.

The statement continued as follows: “The ATP, in its finding, has shown no recognition of the exceptional circumstances created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine [and] appear to regard this matter as a straightforward breach of their rules – with a surprising lack of empathy shown for the situation in Ukraine, and a clear lack of understanding of the unique circumstances the LTA faced.

“The financial impact of both this fine and the WTA’s fine will have a material impact on the LTA’s ability to develop and host tennis in this country. For example, we had intended to host a number of ATP Challenger level events to give more opportunities to lower ranked players in the first quarter of 2023 and will now not be able to do this, particularly given the possibility of further fines.”

Britain remains an outlier within the world of tennis, with every other nation allowing Russians and Belarusians may compete under a neutral flag. This is largely the result of a hawkish government position, which was restated yesterday by culture secretary Michelle Donelan.

“We are clear that sport cannot be used to legitimise this deadly invasion,” said Donelan in a statement, “and that athletes representing the Russian or Belarusian states should be banned from competing in other countries.

"Despite widespread condemnation, the international tennis tours are determined to be outcasts in this, with investment in the growth of our domestic game hampered as a result. This is the wrong move by the ATP and WTA. I urge them to think carefully about the message this sends, and to reconsider."