John McEnroe calls for Russian players to return to Wimbledon after latest twists

John McEnroe

The pressure is mounting on Wimbledon officials to allow Russian and Belarusian players to compete at this year’s Championships, with their return now appearing to be inevitable.

Wimbledon chiefs were joined by Britain’s LTA in banning Russian and Belarusian players from compete in English grass courts events last summer, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

That decision was not welcomed by tennis chiefs, who removed ranking points from Wimbledon and later issues the LTA with huge fines and a warning that they cannot follow that same path in 2023.

With the threat of tournaments like the events at Queen’s Club and Eastbourne being hit by widespread player withdrawals if ranking points are removed, it now seems inevitable that Wimbledon and the LTA will be forced to allow Russian and Belarusian players to play.

Images of Novak Djokovic’s father posing inadvertently with pro-Russian protesters at the Australian Open will not have gone down well with Wimbledon officials, who will not want to see similar scenes repeated on their grounds this season.

Yet with the British government now opening the door to a return for Russian and Belarusian players after insisting they will not stand in their way, tennis legend John McEnroe has called on British tennis chiefs to act quickly to confirm their decision.

“Obviously this is a horrific situation which is going on in the war and people deal with it in different ways,” McEnroe said at a Eurosport event.

“I disagreed with it last year that Wimbledon didn’t allow the Russians or Belarusian players to play. I would disagree with it this year. I don’t know what they’re going to do.

“It’s a situation that no one wants. So hopefully something will change that allows the players to play.

“It happens that in our sport, some of our top male and female players come from those two countries. They shouldn’t, I don’t believe, be punished for something that they have nothing to do with.”

The decision for Wimbledon and the LTA has been complicated by confirmation that Russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to compete under a neutral flag at next summer’s Paris Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee said last week that it was continuing to work on a pathway that would enable Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals, a move which was criticised by the British Government.

The IOC had advised international sports federations last February – in the days following the start of the invasion of Ukraine – to exclude athletes from their competitions, something IOC president Thomas Bach has since described as a measure to protect those athletes.

The IOC has now called on all athletes to be treated equally, regardless of the passport they hold, and said: “Governments must not decide which athletes can participate in which competition and which athletes cannot.”

Guttsait, who is also president of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine, stressed all efforts must be made to make sure Russia and Belarus are not represented in any way at the showpiece multi-sport event next summer.

“For the whole Ukrainian sports community, this is a question of principle,” Guttsait wrote on his Facebook page.

“In this, we are supported by both the President of our state and all society.

“Part of the International Federations are outraged by the IOC’s efforts to promote the return of Russians and Belarusians.

“We have addressed and will address all international organizations that can influence the situation and whose opinions the IOC members can listen to.”

Guttsait added: “Our position is unchanged: as long as there is a war in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be in international competitions.

“Certainly, our national sporting federations need to strengthen communication with international federations to keep the ban in effect.

“Work is currently underway on further possible steps and first steps to continue sanctions and prevent Russians and Belarusians from international competitions.

“If we are not heard, I do not rule out the possibility that we will boycott and refuse participation in the Olympics.”