Wimbledon reach verdict on Russian players with announcement imminent
Tennis and politics will collide once again in the next few days as Wimbledon is preparing to reveal its decision on Russian and Belarusian players competing at this July’s Grand Slam.
Wimbledon and Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association took a stand against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last summer, as they banned all Russian and Belarusian players in a move that rocked the game.
Both the ATP and WTA strongly opposed the move, but the decision ensured high-profile players like Daniil Medvedev, Aryna Sabalenka and Andrey Rublev were blocked from competing in all grass court events in the UK.
Their decision resulted in huge fines for the LTA and the ATP and WTA also decided to strip Wimbledon of ranking points, in a move that had a negative impact on all their members.
With Russian and Belarusian players allowed to compete in all other tournaments under a neutral flag, Wimbledon and the LTA have been under huge pressure to reserve their stance and allow all players to play this summer.
Now the decision is set to be announced, with the widespread expectation that they will allow Russian and Belarusian players to compete set to start a fresh debate.
Wimbledon and the LTA were widely applauded for their stance in the UK, with the British government and the non-tennis community welcoming the decision to take a stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to annex Ukraine.
Yet the tennis community and the game’s organisers came out strongly in support of the banned players, with the $1million fines handed to the LTA for the move by the ATP and WTA highlighting the strength of opinion.
“First of all, I want to reiterate that we always condemn and will condemn war,” the ATP chief Andrea Gaudenzi told Globo.
“I know it’s obvious to say this, but it’s important to repeat and reassure, because we send this message very clearly.
“I think we are very much in line with the guidance of the IOC. Our players cannot play under their flags in team competitions like any other sport. But there are sports that ban individual players.
“Generally speaking, we do not believe in collective guilt. These guys have done nothing wrong.
“They’ve played tennis their whole lives. We feel that, in fairness, they need to have opportunities, like everyone else.
“We also feel that they need to be able to compete and have a voice, say what they think.
“We saw Rublev write ‘No war please’ on camera. I think this is an important message. We want these players to play, to be able to express their feelings, even for this to reach their own people, their own country.
“To give your own version of the story. Generally speaking, we are for justice and freedom, and obviously against war, and we will continue to fight for these principles.”
Reports suggest Wimbledon and the LTA are expected to make a joint decision on the issue and while their eagerness to make a stand against the war in Ukraine remains strong, the opposition from tennis chiefs makes it hard to keep the ban in place.
Wimbledon chiefs are expected to ask all Russian and Belarusian players to refrain from any public support of the war in Ukraine and displays of flags or Russian propaganda will not be permitted inside the grounds of the All England Club.
Australian Open champion Sabalenka suggested in recent days that there has been ‘hatred’ shown towards her in the dressing rooms at tournaments amid suggestions Ukrainian players are not being shown enough support by WTA chiefs.
Yet Belarusian star Victoria Azarenka shares a different perspective than Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka about the effect that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had on the WTA locker room.
“Personally, I have not seen that tension,” the Belarusian said. “Obviously, there are certain players that have different feelings and behaviours.
“Overall, I don’t necessarily share the same opinion as Iga does. I would encourage her to look at the things that have been done before she makes comments.
“Obviously, as a member of the Player Council, I am happy to provide all those facts that have been done. And I think that would be a more appropriate way to have that conversation.”
Wimbledon and the LTA need to make their stance clear on Russian and Belarusian players so they can consider entering grass courts events in England in June and July, with entry deadlines fast approaching.
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