Wimbledon has weathered a lot of politics over the years, and 2022 is proving to be an equal headache, what with the imposed absence of Russian and Belarusian players and the lack of ranking points proving controversial as those able to compete at The Championships, the majority of players, are being penalised for the apparent support of a few.
All this is down to the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops ordered by President Vladimir Putin in February, which was out of the control of the All England Club, who maintain their only course is to prevent any propaganda opportunities arising from Wimbledon to benefit the Kremlin, a position supported by the LTA for the lead-up grass court tournaments.
This decision, which led to the ATP, WTA and the ITF stripping Wimbledon of its ranking points, prompted criticism, led by IOC President Thomas Bach, while other Grand Slam organisers have chosen to allow to Russian and Belarusian players to compete as neutrals, as is the case on the men’s and women’s Tours.
To emphasise both the Club’s and LTA’s support of Ukraine, a donation of £250,000 is being made to Ukrainian refugee charities in addition to the £200,000 pledged by the Wimbledon Foundation to the British Red Cross Emergency Appeal and Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal, as well as an initial £100,000 contribution from Wimbledon to Tennis Plays for Peace.
Wimbledon organisers are also offering free tickets to this year’s grass court Grand Slam to hundreds of Ukrainian refugees who have fled their war-torn country.
They are expected to be joined by local residents and National Health Service and social care workers as well as a variety of schools, charities and community groups.
It is thought that at least 400 Ukrainians have settled in Merton after more than 100 families offered refuge in response to the war in Ukraine.
The AELTC has also confirmed that the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Kingdom has been invited to the Royal Box on Centre Court for the opening day’s play on Monday.
“I’m delighted that Ukrainian refugees hosted across Merton and Wandsworth will be joining us for play on Middle Sunday at Wimbledon, which we hope will have a very special atmosphere in its first year as part of the tournament schedule,” said Ian Hewitt, Chairman of the AELTC.
“I’m also delighted that, in partnership with the LTA, we have been able to commit an additional £250,000 towards the humanitarian response in Ukraine.”
LTA Chief Executive Scott Lloyd added: “On the eve of The Championships I believe it is important that we acknowledge those that are suffering so greatly due to the unrelenting conflict imposed upon Ukraine.
“In partnership with the All England Club we wanted to show, on behalf of British tennis, our ongoing support for those that are most impacted by providing a contribution to the humanitarian efforts for their aid.”
Merton Council and the Polish Family Association have hosted an afternoon tea for the refugees, who have settled in Merton, to hand over the Wimbledon tickets.
“As the charity of an international sporting event, it is important to us that we are supporting people not just in our own local communities but also internationally, particularly in times of crisis,” said Paige Murphy, Head of the Wimbledon Foundation.
“Having previously supported Polish Family Association’s work with east European and Polish communities in Merton and Wandsworth, we were aware of their incredible response to the situation and wanted to support their efforts in caring for those forced to flee their homes in Ukraine.”
At least 4,662 civilians have now been killed in Ukraine since 24 February, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion with support from Belarus, according to the United Nations amid fears the true figure is far higher, while more than 7.5 million people have fled the country.
Sir Andy Murray, who pledged his winnings this year to Ukrainian war victims at the start of the conflict, has re-confirmed that all the prize money he makes at Wimbledon will go to the fund, which is a minimum £50,000 for a first-round singles loss and could be as much as £2 million should he win The Championships.
The former World No 1 is eyeing a 3rd title and whatever he earns over the coming fortnight will be donated to the UNICEF charity to provide medical equipment and supplies for war-weary kids.
Murray, who is a father of four, felt compelled to act after seeing horrific images on TV and in newspapers of the atrocities inflicted by Russian troops on Ukraine since late February.
“There are families and children trying to leave the country,” he said. “There are also families whose homes are getting destroyed.
“For me, education was quite an important thing to try and help kids who are in tough situations.
“What the money is going towards is changing on a weekly basis almost. I felt it was a good thing to do.
“It gives me a little bit of extra motivation to try and perform well and win matches. That’s why I decided to do it.
“I know at times the media get a rough ride from the public but, in this instance, the reporting and everything that I’d seen, it was incredible the job that they were doing.
“It makes you feel like you want to do something or do something to help, and that felt like the best thing that I could do. So that was why I did it.”
In his 1st-round match, Murray, who lost in the 3rd-round last year, will face Australian James Duckworth on Centre Court on Monday.
Meanwhile, Ukraine remains grateful to Wimbledon for its stance, with Marta Kostyuk expressing her relief that the 3rd major of the year has not been hit by boycotts.
Naomi Osaka was one high-profile figure who suggested she could skip Wimbledon and while she is absent due to injury, the world’s best will still be at Wimbledon on Monday.
“All the Ukrainian players are standing with Wimbledon for their decision and I don’t honestly think just Ukrainian players,” Kostyuk told the PA news agency. “I think there are a bunch of players who support this decision.
“I mean, we can see how players still love and everyone, no matter the circumstances, is playing. Only a couple of withdrawals – due to injuries – but everyone is still playing and that melts my heart.
“I am glad players didn’t turn their back on Wimbledon. It could have turned out differently. Players could have boycotted it and then Wimbledon wouldn’t allow Russian or Belarusians anyway, but it was already very messy, and not right since the beginning.”
19-year old Kostyuk is one of 4 players from Ukraine in the women’s singles, but Elina Svitolina will be absent after she recently announced her pregnancy.
It puts greater expectation on the World No 79 from Kiev, who burst on to the scene aged 15 by reaching the 3rd-round at the Australian Open, and also made the last 32 at Roland Garros in 2021.
Kostyuk broke into the world’s top 50 in February, but tennis has been far from her mind since Russia invaded Ukraine during the same month.
“My dad is home in Kiev,” she said. “The rest of the family is out. It is never safe because it is always, how do you say it, air raid sirens and all these things.
“I don’t know how it goes. It is not easy to talk about or easy to process.
“I speak with a therapist. I don’t think in circumstances like this you can process this information by yourself and deal with it by yourself.
“I know people who haven’t been seeking help or anything like this and I can see how much it damages then.
“I have done a lot of work and it helped me not just on court but in different areas of my life. I am glad about it but the work goes on, and hopefully it can get better.”
Kostyuk has enjoyed her time in England so far this summer and admitted the support of this country means a lot as she claimed wins over Viktorija Golubic and Barbora Krejcikova at the Rothesay International Eastbourne this week before home hopeful Harriet Dart ended her run on the south coast.
“Yes we feel the support of England, which is obviously great because there are not many countries who have shown such great support and such constant support,” she said.
“It feels good and nice here because whenever you go and whenever someone asks where you are from and you say Ukraine, they all reply: ‘We are so against Russia, we are supporting you’ which is great.”
While there will be no friction in the Wimbledon locker room, Kostyuk knows her upcoming US Open experience will be a different experience after the USTA recently confirmed Russian and Belarusians can compete in New York under neutral flags.
“I have been disappointed, way before all the decisions were ever made,” Kostyuk reflected. “I have been disappointed since the first couple of weeks after the war started at how everyone reacted in tennis and the disappointment keeps on coming.
“It is not like I am shocked or whatever. It is just… we are constantly disappointed and nothing is changing but it is what it is. What can I do? I try my best.”
Svitolina also feels US Open organisers should be taking a firmer stance on Russian and Belarusian players, which means that World No 1 Daniil Medvedev, who won last year’s men’s singles title after defeating Serbian Novak Djokovic, is set to be able to defend his title, albeit as a neutral athlete.
“It’s their decision to make, they decided to take this path,” Svitolina told Reuters. “I don’t support it because I feel like they should have taken more serious action.
“Ukraine’s sports is thrown back by 10 years, minimum, because all the infrastructure has been damaged or completely destroyed.
“I can tell you many, many factors that can play a role in the decision of not letting Russian and Belarusian players compete.”
The 27-year-old pledged to donate her prize money from tournaments to the Ukrainian army before pulling out of the tour injured after losing in the second round of the Miami Masters in March.
Born in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, Svitolina expected more support from the governing bodies of tennis and was completely against the policy of allowing players from Russia and Belarus to compete as neutrals, while the silence from her fellow players was also surprising.
“For us it was not really understandable why we didn’t get support from them,” Svitolina said. “I feel like it created tension between us.”
Svitolina thanked World No 1 Iga Swiatek for her French Open victory speech when the Pole urged Ukraine to ‘stay strong’ and reminded everyone that the war was still ongoing.
The pregnancy will force her to take a break from travelling to fundraising events but Svitolina plans to be back at work by the end of the year, and she also wants to return to the tennis court.
Elsewhere, Denis Kudla, who was born in Ukraine and still has family there, said he is comfortable with the USTA’s decision.
The World No 82, who now represents the US, said at Queen’s: “It’s a tough situation. I’m not really too against the Russian players playing, they’re not really the ones that are doing it, personally.
“I don’t have a lot of family there [in Ukraine], I have an uncle and two cousins. Luckily they’re towards kind of the Romanian border, but it’s obviously awful to see, we’re keeping an eye on it.”
Reacting to the US Open decision, Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin told Russia’s state news agency TASS: “I am not surprised. I think this is a very balanced position of the professional tennis community.
“The organisations that you named have recognised that both the traditions of tennis and the unity of the tennis sports world will be damaged.”
The 2022 US Open is scheduled to take place from 29 August to 11 September at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.