Wimbledon has come into a bit of flack over its decision to exclude Russian and Belarusian players from The Championships, and the All England Club is now also facing security concerns in addition to the repercussions from the ATP and WTA stripping the grass court Grand Slam of ranking points.
Our task is that we have to realise that we have to get back to the day when we can unite the entire world in a peaceful competition, this is not the day, but we can only hope that peace prevails. Thomas Bach, IOC President
One of the security fears is that Wimbledon’s scoreboards could be hacked by Russian cyber attackers and the Club is said to now be on ‘high alert’ amid concerns that hackers could break into the system during matches.
IBM, the tech firm in charge of the tournament’s cybersecurity, is confident that their system is sufficiently robust to withstand such a threat.
The system, which provides the scheduling, statistics and results as well as live match scoring, however presents hackers with multiple avenues for a potential cyberattack.
“Inevitably, such a high-profile sporting event and iconic brand attracts a huge amount of unwanted attention from cyber-attackers, whose aim is to disrupt and cause reputational damage,” the IBM website states.
Meanwhile, IOC President Thomas Bach has criticised the AELTC’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from Wimbledon, saying sport will be ‘lost’ if it allows governments to get involved.
“We need the respect of the Governments for our role,” Bach said during a recent address to the ASOIF General Assembly in Lausanne. “Look at our friends from tennis – in Paris, Russian players can play as neutral athletes; in London, at Wimbledon, the Government is saying no way and, if we allow this, if we give into this, then we are lost.
“How can you guarantee then, in your sport a fair international competition, if the Governments are deciding according to their own political interests, who can take part in a competition and who cannot take part?
“Then, If you open this gate, today, it is Russia and Belarus, tomorrow it is your country, there is no country in the world which is loved by every other Government.
“This is against all the principles we are standing for, if we leave this to the Governments then we are becoming a political tool and we cannot guarantee any more, a fair competition.
“Our task is that we have to realise that we have to get back to the day when we can unite the entire world in a peaceful competition, this is not the day, but we can only hope that peace prevails.”
Bach insisted that the IOC’s ban on Russian and Belarusian teams had been imposed because Russia had violated the Olympic Truce, which had been agreed by the United Nations ahead of Beijing 2022.
“Therefore tough measures against those who are responsible for the blatant violation of the Olympic Truce, to make it clear, the Olympic Truce is directed to Governments only,” Bach reasserted.
“Everybody who is supporting the war, can and should be sanctioned, but everybody who does not support the war, his rights must be respected, under our own rules and the rules of international law, there is no sanction, and there should be no sanction for holding a passport.”
Bach claimed that the exclusion of athletes from Russia and Belarus had been taken as a protective measure.
“In a number of countries you had and have such high feelings against Russian and Belarusian people that you could not guarantee their safety at international competitions anymore, they are very exposed to aggressive acts,” he told delegates.
“At the World Expo, the Russian Pavilion was aggressed, and then the ones that were responsible for the Russian Pavilion they aggressed then other pavilions, this is not anything we want to have at our international events.”
The IOC has recommended that International Federations bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from their events outright.
“Our task is to keep sport beyond this political trend, with all these divisions and confrontations, it is always important for the entire world to have at least one bridge, and to have at least something on which everyone can agree, and there the most natural issue is sport because it is appreciated by everybody, it can be practised without political interest, without any kind of discrimination,” Bach said.
The United Nations reports that at least 4,253 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the start of a full-scale Russian invasion on 24 February, while more than 6.8 million people have been forced to flee the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of carrying out war crimes, including executing civilians, and the combined military death toll is thought to exceed 20,000.
These days, being Russian presents other problems, as World No 2 Anett Kontaveit has discovered.
The Estonian was forced to split with her coach, former Russian player Dmitry Tursanov, because his nationality has caused issues over obtaining visas for the former World No 20 to attend tournaments.
26-year-old Kontaveit explained that the current situation had become too convoluted.
“I want to thank him for a very successful and strong cooperation, I am very grateful to him,” Kontaveit told Estonian outlet ERR, adding that the current international situation contributed to the shock decision.
“The reason is that, since he has a Russian passport, it is very difficult for him to get visas at the moment, meaning he can’t accompany me to many tournaments.
“I still feel I need a coach who can accompany me, and who does not have so many practical issues,” she added. “There was a lack of such security, given the situation.
“He could not come to America with me in March, and now he had a visa problem in relation to England. The visa process was very complicated for him.”
The two have worked together successfully since August, but their partnership is now over due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Last year’s WTA finals runner-up confirmed the news on social media: “I’d like to thank Dimitry Tursunov on a very successful time together,” she posted. “Along the way we enjoyed a number of big wins.
“Moving forward, we have mutually agreed to go our separate ways. I wish him nothing but the best!”
Addressing the split, Tursanov said: “[I] feel proud of the work I put in and a bit sad but sometimes good things must come to an end.
Elsewhere, the USTA has announced that players from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete at the US Open under a neutral flag, but Novak Djokovic still is facing a ban due to his opposition to the COVID vaccination because there are no plans to relax American immigration rules that require incoming travellers to have had the jab.
Djokovic was deported from Australia earlier this year over his vaccination status, leaving him unable to defend the title in Melbourne, but he did compete in Paris and will be defending his Wimbledon title.
“Based on our own circumstances, the USTA will allow all eligible players, regardless of nationality, to compete at the 2022 US Open,” organisers said in a statement, adding that the USTA ‘has previously condemned, and continues to condemn, the unprovoked and unjust invasion of Ukraine by Russia’.
Ukrainian former player Sergiy Stakhovsky immediately condemned the US Open decision.
“You cannot put a price tag on being able to live with yourself,” tweeted Stakhovsky, who retired from tennis earlier this year and has joined Ukraine’s reserve forces in Kyiv. “I salute Wimbledon, the only entity which has a moral code.”
The ITF, ATP and WTA Tours have all condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, supported by Belarus, and have banned the countries from international team competitions and issued directives that players from those nations must compete under a neutral flag in other competitions.
“The USTA will work with the players and both tours to use the US Open as a platform to further the humanitarian effort of the ‘Tennis Plays for Peace’ program,” USTA President Mike McNulty said, adding the organisation will introduce initiatives to help ongoing Ukrainian humanitarian efforts. “Unfortunately, the need for help only continues to grow.
“The USTA will be responding very soon with a broad set of initiatives that will include significant financial assistance and other programs to further support humanitarian relief and the people of Ukraine.”
While Wimbledon’s ban has ruled out a swathe of top players, including Daniil Medvedev, the new men’s World No 1 and the reigning US Open champion, as well as last year’s women’s US Open semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka and two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka, they will be eligible to appear at the US Open.
Wimbledon will dish out the biggest prize fund in its history to try to stop any notion of the top stars boycotting the grass-court Grand Slam, and the men’s and women’s Wimbledon singles champions in 2022 will receive a cool £2million cheque from the All England Club.
The total prize fund for the Championships, which start on Monday 27 June, has been upped to a record £40.35million, an increase of more than £5million on the purse on offer last year, which financially reduced its money due to the impact of the Covid pandemic.
It is at the lower end where the benefits will also be felt with first-round losers getting a whopping £50,000 while there is £78,000 for those defeated in the second round.
While Djokovic and Simona Halep earned an unprecedented £2.35million for their triumphs in 2019, this was reduced to £1.7million last year for Djokovic and Ash Barty.
The 2020 tournament was cancelled due to the Covid crisis but £10.6million was paid in lieu of prize money to players who would have qualified for direct entry that year.
Wimbledon, which celebrates the centenary of Centre Court, will host play on the Middle Sunday for the first time in a permanent capacity, bringing it in line with the other three majors.
Ian Hewitt, Chairman of the All England Club, said: “From the first round of the qualifying competition to the champions being crowned, this year’s prize money distribution aims to reflect just how important the players are to The Championships.
“We look to continue to deliver one of the world’s leading sporting events, and with a particularly special tournament ahead of us as we celebrate 100 years of Centre Court on Church Road.”