Wimbledon announces ban on players from Russia and Belarus

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Daniil Medvedev, the men’s No. 2, has been banned from entering Wimbledon   (Getty Images)
Daniil Medvedev, the men’s No. 2, has been banned from entering Wimbledon (Getty Images)

The organisers of Wimbledon have announced a ban on players from Russia and Belarus from competing at this year’s tournament, as well as all other events organised by the Lawn Tennis Association in Britain this summer.

The decision comes in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Belarus’ support of the war and means leading players such as the men’s No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and women’s No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka will be unable to enter.

Wimbledon has become the first major tennis tournament to reach such a decision. Players from Russia and Belarus have been able to compete under neutral flags in both the ATP and WTA tours since the war in Ukraine began, while the French Open, the second major of the year, will also allow athletes to enter when it begins next month.

In response, the ATP said Wimbledon’s decision was “unfair” and “has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game”.

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 Vladimir 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 Medvedev, the US Open champion, would have to denounce Putin in order to play, but Wimbledon organisers have opted for an outright ban.

A statement from the All England Club on Wednesday read: “Given the profile of The Championships in the United Kingdom 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 Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible.

“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 with The Championships.

“It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022.”

It added: “If circumstances change materially between now and June, we will consider and respond accordingly. We also welcome the LTA’s decision in declining entries from Russian and Belarusian players to UK events to ensure that British tennis is delivering a consistent approach across the summer.”

Aryna Sabalenka, the leading Belarusian player, reached the Wimbledon semi-finals last year (Getty Images)
Aryna Sabalenka, the leading Belarusian player, reached the Wimbledon semi-finals last year (Getty Images)

Other leading tournaments, such as the US Open, are not expected to follow suit. Steve Simon, the head of the WTA, has also stated his opposition to players being banned based on the actions of their governments.

He told the BBC: “I feel very strongly that these individual athletes should not be the ones that are being penalised by the decisions of an authoritarian leadership that is obviously doing terrible, reprehensible things.”

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, while Sabalenka of Belarus reached the semi-finals last year and her compatriot Victoria Azarenka is a former world No. 1 and two-time Wimebledon semi-finalist.

Pavlyuchenkov, who represented the Russian Olympic Comittee alongside Rublev in Tokyo at the Olympic Games last summer, condemned Russia’s invasion and has said: “Stop the violence, stop the war.”

The move from Wimbledon was made with the support of the UK Government. The sports minster, Nigel Huddleston, said: “I welcome this decisive action by the All England Lawn Tennis Club and Lawn Tennis Association. The UK has taken a leading role internationally to make clear that President Putin must not be able to use sport to legitimise Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine.

“Whilst the withdrawal of individual athletes is a complex issue that will divide opinion, there is a bigger cause at stake. We have set out our position with sport governing bodies and event organisers and will continue to encourage them to take appropriate action for their sport.”

While The ATP’s full statement read: “We strongly condemn Russia’s reprehensible invasion of Ukraine and stand in solidarity with the millions of innocent people affected by the ongoing war.

“Our sport is proud to operate on the fundamental principles of merit and fairness, where players compete as individuals to earn their place in tournaments based on the ATP Rankings.

“We believe that today’s unilateral decision by Wimbledon and the LTA to exclude players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s British grass-court swing is unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game.

“Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP Rankings. Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our Board and Member councils.

“It is important to stress that players from Russia and Belarus will continue to be allowed to compete at ATP events under a neutral flag, a position that has until now been shared across professional tennis. In parallel, we will continue our joint humanitarian support for Ukraine under Tennis Plays for Peace.”

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