Ukraine star Elina Svitolina says Russians who denounce Vladimir Putin should be allowed to play Wimbledon

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Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina has said of Russia’s invasion that “silence is betrayal”   (Getty Images)
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina has said of Russia’s invasion that “silence is betrayal” (Getty Images)

Elina Svitolina believes players from Russia and Belarus should be allowed to compete at Wimbledon if they denounce Vladimir Putin and the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine.

Svitolina, the world No. 25 and top-ranked Ukrainian player, has called on tennis authorities to take a tougher stance on players from Russia and Belarus but says she does not want them to be banned completely unless they do not speak out against the invasion.

Wimbledon have gone against the position take by the ATP and WTA by becoming the first tournament to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at this year’s Championships.

Players from the two countries have been able to compete under neutral flags in both the ATP and WTA tours since the war in Ukraine began, and the ATP reacted by calling Wimbledon’s decision as “unfair”.

“We don’t want them banned completely,” Svitolina told the BBC. “If players don’t speak out against the Russian government then it is the right thing to ban them.

“We just want them to speak up, if they are with us and the rest of the world or the Russian government. This is for me the main point. If they didn’t choose, they didn’t vote for this government, then it’s fair they should be allowed to play and compete.”

The All England Club had been in discussions with the UK Government for several weeks over fears that allowing players from Russia and Belarus to enter the tournament, which begins on 27 June, would be a boost to Putin’s regime if a player from either country would win The Championships.

The UK sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, suggested to a select committee last month that players such as Daniil Medvedev, the men’s No. 2 and US Open champion, would have to denounce Putin in order to play, but Wimbledon organisers have opted for an outright ban.

In announcing their decision on Wednesday, Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, said that they could be putting players and their families in danger if they ask them to denounce Russia.

“We recognise that this is hard on the individuals affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime,” he said.

“We have very carefully considered the alternative measures that might be taken within the UK Government guidance but, given the high profile environment of The Championships, the importance of not allowing sport to be used to promote the Russian regime and our broader concerns for public and player (including family) safety, we do not believe it is viable to proceed on any other basis at The Championships.”

Medvedev, who reached world No. 1 for the first time earlier this year, said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month: “My message is always the same - I want peace in all of the world.” Other Russian players, such as the men’s No. 8 Andrey Rublev, have openly spoken out against the war.

The top-ranked Russian player in the women’s singles is No. 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. She has condemned Russia’s invasion and has said: “Stop the violence, stop the war.”

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