Explainer – Why Wimbledon’s Russian and Belarusian ban has caused a crisis at the heart of tennis

A logo at Wimbledon

The decision from Wimbledon and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to ban Russian and Belarusian players from all grass-courts events in Britain this summer divided opinion among the tennis community and created a crisis that could still result in some dramatic repercussions.

The background

Under pressure to comply with UK government advice to limit the impact of high-profile Russians and Belarusians in light of the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine, Wimbledon and LTA chiefs felt they were left with no choice other than to ban players from their events.

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were among those who voiced their disapproval of the decision and suggested the Russian and Belarusian players should be allowed to play.

The rumoured sanctions

The ATP and WTA both opposed the decision to ban players from grass-court events in the UK this summer and there were suggestions that they would take ranking points away from these tournaments as a punishment.

That move could have put the tournaments in peril, as several players may have opted to withdraw from events at Nottingham, Birmingham, Queen’s Club and Eastbourne in a bid to chase ranking points at other competitions in Europe.

So while Emma Raducanu is scheduled to play at the Birmingham Classic next month, she may have altered her plans if the 250 WTA ranking points were stripped from the event.

Carlos Alcaraz in action
The same is true of a host of players scheduled to play at the ATP 500 event at the Queen’s Club, with Carlos Alcaraz, Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray all expected to appear in that tournament.

The decision is made

After days of speculation, the ATP announced on Tuesday that they had decided against stripping ranking points from the LTA events, but they have delayed their decision on what they will do with the 2000 ranking points on offer at Wimbledon.

That means the showpiece Queen’s Club event will go ahead as planned, with the traditional pre-Wimbledon tournaments getting the green light to continue.

““Following extensive consultation with the Player Council and Tournament Council, the ATP Board has today confirmed that this season’s ATP Tour events in Queen’s and Eastbourne will proceed as normal, offering full ATP rankings points,” read a statement from the ATP Tour.

“The LTA’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes is contrary to ATP rules and undermines the ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination – a fundamental principle of the ATP Tour.

“Sanctions related to LTA’s violation of ATP rules will now be assessed separately under ATP governance. ATP’s response to Wimbledon’s decision remains under review, with more to be communicated in due course.”

Relief for the LTA after ATP decision

LTA chiefs will be relieved that their tournaments can now go ahead this summer, with the Queen’s Club already close to being a sell-out as it holds a place as one of the key events of the British sporting summer.

In many respects, they were more exposed to punishment than Wimbledon, as their events are sanctioned by the ATP and WTA, while the Grand Slam event is an ITF event.

“We welcome the news that our ATP events this summer will be able to go ahead as planned,” the LTA said in response to the ATP’s decision. “Based on the international condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine and the UK Government’s guidance we believe we have taken the right decision in these difficult circumstances.

“We are aware of the impact on individual Russian and Belarusian players, however the need for them to sign a declaration meant that entry to the events would never have rested solely on merit.

“We will continue to engage with the ATP and their processes over the coming weeks.”

What comes next?

Daniil Medvedev plays a shot
Daniil Medvedev at Wimbledon

The decision on ranking points at Wimbledon will now be the focus of attention. 

With suggestions that some members of the ATP Players Council are in favour of removing the 2000 ranking points from the third Grand Slam of the year, the organisation are in a tricky position.

They need to ensure their decision does not look like it is in any way giving a boost to the Russian government or their war in Ukraine.

They also need to listen to their members and respect their views in a story that has left tennis fans, players and administrators divided like never before.