Professional tennis players from Russia and Belarus were banned last week from competing at Wimbledon this year by the All England Tennis and Croquet Club, which is home to the biggest tennis tournament in the world. Officials announced they would “decline entries” by players from both countries because of their government’s participation in the invasion of Ukraine.
The ban affects top players, including the world’s number-two men’s player Daniil Medvedev and number-four ranked Aryna Sabalenka from the women’s tour. Both the ATP and WTA tours have expressed criticism of the decision as the news dominates the world of sports, including the upcoming NFL Draft later this week. The ban means some of the world’s best players will not be permitted to compete in the tournament.
Club Had No Alternative
All England Club Chairman Ian Hewitt and Chief Executive Sally Bolton held a news conference on Tuesday and said there was no alternative to the decision. They also explained why they think it’s the right choice. Bolton cited the club’s responsibility “to play our part in limiting the possibility of Wimbledon being used to justify the harm being done to others by the Russian regime, we believe that this decision is the only viable option for Wimbledon.”
The two officials repeatedly talked about the tournament returning to “normal” this year, mainly when talking about COVID-19-related issues regarding the tournament that’s set to start on June 27. Still, questions about the Russian ban were unavoidable during the new conference.
By taking this position, the All England Club realizes the players are hung out to dry by decisions made by sports officials and government organizations and needs to make a statement about playing a part in limiting “Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible.” Of course, it’s still possible for things to change before the start of the tournament in two months if the situation changes on the ground in Ukraine, but at this point, it seems unlikely.
Many Top Players Banned
Besides number-two-ranked Medvedev, other prominent players affected by the ban are number-eight ranked Andrey Rublev, Victoria Azarenka, a former world’s number-one and two-time Australian Open winner, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. She was runner-up at last year’s French Open. Sabalenka and Azarenka are from Belarus, while the other players are from Russia.
Athletes from the two countries were allowed to continue competing as “neutral” athletes, not representing their respective countries. However, some Russian athletes were stopped from participating in other sports, such as the Russian men’s soccer team. It was banned from the World Cup qualifying playoffs for the event to be held in Qatar this June.
UEFA relocated the men’s Champions League final from St. Petersburg to Paris, and FIFA also suspended the Russian national teams from any competition. This meant the men’s team was banned from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, and the women’s squad was disqualified from participating in the Euro Championships. The Boston Athletic Association also banned athletes from Belarus and Russia from running in this year’s Boston Marathon.
Decision Comes With Much Opposition
Many of the world’s top players and officials across the world of tennis are in complete disagreement with the ban. Novak Djokovic, a 20-time Grand Slam Champion and number one player globally, thinks the ban is “crazy.”
Nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova says that she is “devastated” by the choice to ban the athletes, saying the exclusion of players is “unfair” and “not helpful.” She sought political asylum in the US in the late 1970s after defecting from Czechoslovakia’s communist regime.
The ATP and WTA tours both opposed the decision of the All England Club and have thought about not awarding ranking points for Wimbledon. However, the two club officials didn’t directly touch on that possibility. Instead, they said they are in discussions with both tours about the position both parties find themselves in, with a couple of months left before the start of the tournament.