London | Wimbledon facing backlash over banning Russian and Belarusians from Championships 

Wimbledon and the LTA are facing a backlash from both the ATP and WTA Tours following its decision to not accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players for this year’s Championships in late June, but the move also has been welcomed by some.

We noticed that some Russian and Belarusian players at some point vaguely mentioned the war, but never clearly stating that Russia and Belarus started it on territory of Ukraine. The very silence of those who choose to remain that way is unbearable as it leads to the continuation of murder in our homeland... In times of crisis, silence means agreeing with what is happening. There comes a time when silence is betrayal, and that time is now. Elina Svitolina

“Given the profile of The Championships in the United Kingdom and around the world, it is our responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of Government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible,” the AELTC’s statement issued on Wednesday read.

“In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships.

“It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022.”

This effectively means that the likes of men’s World No 2 Daniil Medvedev, who is the reigning US Open men’s singles champion, and Andrey Rublev, alongside women’s 15th-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, will not be playing the grass court season in the UK.

Russia has 4 men ranked in the top 30 on the ATP Tour, and 5 women in the top 40 of the WTA Tour, while Belarus boasts Aryna Sabalenka, the World No 4 who was a Wimbledon semi-finalist last year, and Victoria Azarenka, none of whom now will be going to SW19.

While all have called for peace following the invasion of Ukraine, they have stopped short of publicly denouncing President Vladimir Putin and his actions.

“We recognise that this is hard on the individuals affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime,” said Ian Hewitt, Chairman of the All England Club.

“We have very carefully considered the alternative measures that might be taken within the UK Government guidance but, given the high-profile environment of The Championships, the importance of not allowing sport to be used to promote the Russian regime, and our broader concerns for public and player (including family) safety, we do not believe it is viable to proceed on any other basis at The Championships.”

AELTC Chairman Ian Hewitt, seen here in the Royal Box with HRH The Duchess of Cambridge last year, regrets Wimbledon's decision but feels it is necessary

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston announced last month that athletes from Russia and Belarus would have to prove that they are ‘genuinely independent and neutral’ to participate in sporting events in Britain, which would have involved athletes signing a written declaration.

“The UK has taken a leading role internationally to make clear that President Putin must not be able to use sport to legitimise Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine,” Huddleston has now stated.

“Whilst the withdrawal of individual athletes is a complex issue that will divide opinion, there is a bigger cause at stake.

“We have set out our position with sport governing bodies and event organisers, and will continue to encourage them to take appropriate action for their sport.”

A statement from the LTA said it is ‘important to do all it can to support Ukraine at this time’, adding: “The LTA believes that tennis must join many other areas of sport and public life in sending a clear signal to the Russian and Belarusian states that their actions are the subject of international condemnation.

“The continuing participation of Russian and Belarusian nationals at events risks providing a boost to these regimes when there is an unprecedented international effort to isolate them and sanction their actions.”

Elina Svitolina (C) feels Daniil Medvedev and Aryna Sabalenka could do more to denounce the Russian actions in Ukraine


Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina released a statement on social media calling for tennis authorities to take a strong position against Russia and Belarusian athletes, quoting Ginetta Sagan as saying ‘Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the presser’.

“As athletes, we live a life in the public eye and therefore have an enormous responsibility,” Svitolina wrote. “Some of our posts and opinions on social media reach an audience larger than those of regional television stations.

“We noticed that some Russian and Belarusian players at some point vaguely mentioned the war, but never clearly stating that Russia and Belarus started it on territory of Ukraine.

“The very silence of those who choose to remain that way is unbearable as it leads to the continuation of murder in our homeland.”

Svitolina demanded the 7 tennis governing bodies ask players from Russia and Belarus whether they support the invasion and military activities in Ukraine, as well as whether they support President Putin or Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

“If applicable, we demand to exclude and ban any Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in any events,” Svitolina added. “In times of crisis, silence means agreeing with what is happening.

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal, and that time is now.”

Wimbledon's Centre Court will not see Russian or Belarusian players in action in 2022

© by AELTC/Thomas Lovelock/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The ATP has claimed Wimbledon’s decision to be ‘unfair’ and will assess the move in consultation with their board.

“We believe that today’s unilateral decision by Wimbledon and the LTA to exclude players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s British grass-court swing is unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game,” the ATP said.

“Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP Rankings.

“Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our Board and Member councils.

“It is important to stress that players from Russia and Belarus will continue to be allowed to compete at ATP events under a neutral flag, a position that has until now been shared across professional tennis.

“In parallel, we will continue our joint humanitarian support for Ukraine under Tennis Plays for Peace.”

The WTA, too, issued a strong statement against the ban: “The WTA strongly condemns the actions that have been taken by Russia and its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“We continue our humanitarian relief efforts to support Ukraine through Tennis Plays for Peace.

“We are, however, very disappointed in today’s announcement by the AELTC and the LTA to ban individual athletes who are from Russia and Belarus from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events.

“A fundamental principal of the WTA is that individual athletes may participate in professional tennis events based on merit and without any form of discrimination.

“That principle is expressly set forth in our rules and has been agreed to by both AELTC and LTA.

“Prohibitions against discrimination are also clearly expressed in their own rules and the Grand Slam rules.

“As the WTA has consistently stated, individual athletes should not be penalised or prevented from competing due to where they are from, or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.

“Discrimination, and the decision to focus such discrimination against athletes competing on their own as individuals, is neither fair nor justified.

“The WTA will continue to apply its rules to reject discrimination and ensure that all athletes are able to compete at our Tour events should they qualify to do so, a position that until today’s announcement has been shared across professional tennis.

“The WTA will be evaluating its next steps and what actions may be taken regarding these decisions.”

The Gentlemen's and Ladies' trophies seen on centre court during previews for Wimbledon will not be falling into Russian or Belarusian hands in 2022

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary, expressed dismay with the ban: “Our players are among the top in the world ranking and so the tournaments will suffer from their suspension.

“Once again, it is unacceptable to make athletes hostages of political prejudice, intrigue and hostile actions toward our country.”

Following Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine in February, players from Russia and Belarus are allowed only to compete as individuals at ATP, WTA and ITF events, playing under a neutral flag with no country names displayed or anthems played.

The ATP and the WTA have little leverage over Wimbledon’s actions, which operates as private members club, but the tours could respond by reducing or removing rankings points from the event, while individual players could take legal action against the Club.

The lead-up tournaments to The Championships, however, are another matter since the LTA has entered into contracts with both the ATP and the WTA that include discriminatory clauses, and the governing body could well be facing legal proceedings as a result.

Martina Navratilova, one of the sport’s greatest champions, said in a radio interview on Wednesday: “I don’t think this is the right thing to do.

“I think it’s the wrong decision,” she told Andrew Marr. “Tennis is such a democratic sport. It is difficult when you see politics destroy it.”

She also argued that although Ukrainians are the victims in this war, banning Russian and Belarusian players makes them victims, too.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, a former Russian World No 1 in the late 1990s, said in an interview from Moscow: “Of course it’s very tragic, what’s happening in the world.

“I’m totally shocked with what is going on, but to hold hostage people like Medvedev, Rublev and Pavlyuchenkova, I think it’s wrong.

“And knowing what kind of position they took before, when this all started, I think Wimbledon is making a mistake on this one. They’ve gone a bit too far.”

While Novak Djokovic, a 6-time men’s singles champion at Wimbledon, said he did not support the ‘crazy”’ decision by the AELTC, some Ukrainian former and current players, including Alexandr Dolgopolov, a retired player now serving in the Ukrainian military, have praised the move, calling it brave.

Wimbledon, in its statement, left open the possibility of revising its position, stating: “If circumstances change materially between now and June, we will consider and respond accordingly.”

Meanwhile, the AELTC is reported to be seeking to withdraw TV rights for The Championships from companies broadcasting in Russia and Belarus.

It is clear that it would not be a good look should a Russian or Belarusian lift the Wimbledon trophy in early July when Russian troops, aided by Belarus, continue to obliterate cities in Ukraine, committing genocide and displacing 5 million people as refugees, in an unprovoked and illegal war that should never have happened, not to mention damaging the world’s economy in the process.

If there is backlash and discord within tennis as a result of Wimbledon’s stance, then that too will be perceived by Putin as a win.



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