Belarusian tennis chiefs seek legal action over Wimbledon ban and slam ‘incompetent, ignorant’ UK officials

Aryna Sabalenka at Wimbledon

The Belarusian Tennis Federation is seeking legal advice over Wimbledon’s ban on players from the country following the decision taken by the All England Club and Lawn Tennis Association.

The two bodies announced on Wednesday that players from Russia and Belarus will not be able to enter this summer’s grass-court events because of the actions taken by their countries in Ukraine.

Players from the two nations have been allowed to continue playing under a neutral flag and the ban was condemned by the ATP and WTA.

Wimbledon and LTA confirm full UK grass court ban for Russian and Belarusian players

In a strongly-worded statement on Thursday, the BTF hit out at the tennis bodies and the British Government, saying: “The Belarusian Tennis Federation categorically condemns the decision taken by the organisers of Wimbledon to suspend Belarusian and Russian tennis players.

“Such destructive actions in no way contribute to the resolution of conflicts, but only incite hatred and intolerance on a national basis.

“Obviously, the reason for such a tough decision was the direct pressure of the British Government, for example, the statements of the Minister of Sports Nigel Huddleston about the need to allow Belarusian and Russian tennis players to participate in the tournament only after signing a special declaration condemning the special operation and providing guarantees that the athletes do not support the current power in their countries and do not receive public funding.

“Such statements speak of the incompetence and ignorance of the UK officials of the state system of sports support in Belarus and Russia.

“Illegal decisions of international tennis organisations in relation to our athletes undermine, first of all, the reputation of these organisations, and the inconsistency of statements and actions between them only confirm the incompetence and unilateral decision-making.

“At the moment, consultations of the BTF leadership with international law firms on sports law are ongoing and a strategy is being developed that is aimed at protecting, first of all, Belarusian tennis players around the world, and tennis in the Republic of Belarus as a whole.

“The BTF is taking all possible steps to level the current situation and assures that it will continue to defend the rights of Belarusian tennis players to participate in international tournaments.”

Belarus currently have two players in the WTA top 20 with Aryna Sabalenka ranked No 4 in the world and two-time Grand Slam winner Victoria Azarenka No 18.

Britain hosts three WTA events in the run-up to Wimbledon, in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne, and chief executive Steve Simon said the organisation’s boards and councils would come together in the next week to decide what action to take.

Novak Djokovic and Martina Navratilova both condemned Wimbledon’s stance on Wednesday while leading Ukrainian player Elina Svitolina, who has criticised Russian and Belarusian players for not publicly coming out against the invasion, also did not support the move, telling the BBC: “We don’t want them banned completely.”

Writing on Twitter, WTA founder Billie Jean King wrote: “One of the guiding principles of the founding of the WTA was that any girl in the world, if she was good enough, would have a place to compete.

“I stood by that in 1973 and I stand by that today. I cannot support the banning of individual athletes from any tournament simply because of their nationality.”