It seems that Russian and Belarusian players are not going to take being banished from competing in the UK lying down, and are taking legal advice to determine what action they can take against the All England Lawn Tennis Club and the Lawn Tennis Association.
I think it’s very unfair [on] my Russian tennis mates, my colleagues. It’s not their fault what’s happening in this moment with the war. At the end of the day, what happens in our game, it doesn’t have any importance when we can see so many people dying, and suffering, and seeing the bad situation they are having in Ukraine. Andy Murray
According to Neil McLeman reporting in the Sunday Express, the players have hired a Paris human rights lawyer to investigate challenging their ban from Wimbledon and LTA events this summer after the AELTC insisted there was ‘no viable option’ after excluding players from both countries due to government guidance following the invasion of Ukraine.
The players are seeking a compromise where they are allowed to play under a neutral flag, as they can on the ATP and WTA Tours as well as at the French Open.
The ATP and WTA Tours have held meetings in Madrid this week to discuss potential sanctions against both Wimbledon and the LTA, but have yet to make any public announcement.
Tennis remains split over the situation, with Andy Murray the latest player to say he is ‘not supportive’ of the ban but adding there is no ‘right answer’ to the difficult situation.
Murray, who is donating all of his prize money this season to humanitarian relief in Ukraine, said the guidance from the UK government ‘was not helpful’ and could potentially put the families of players at risk.
“I’m not supportive of players getting banned,” the former World No 1 told reporters in Spain.
“My understanding of the guidance was that Russians and Belarusians can play if they sign a declaration that they’re against the war and against the Russian regime.
“I’m not sure how comfortable I would feel if something happened to one of the players or their families [as a result]. I don’t think there’s a right answer.
“I have spoken to some of the Russian players. I’ve spoken to some of the Ukrainian players. I feel really bad for the players who aren’t allowed to play, and I get that it will seem unfair to them.
“But I also know some of the people who work at Wimbledon, and I know how difficult a position they were in.
“I feel for everyone, feel for the players that can’t play, and I don’t support one side or the other.”
Rafael Nadal, who has won 2 of his 21 Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon called the ban ‘very unfair’.
“I think it’s very unfair [on] my Russian tennis mates, my colleagues,” he said. “It’s not their fault what’s happening in this moment with the war.
“At the end of the day, what happens in our game, it doesn’t have any importance when we can see so many people dying, and suffering, and seeing the bad situation they are having in Ukraine.”
World No 1 Novak Djokovic reiterated his opposition to the ban, saying: “I still stand by my position that I don’t support the decision. I think it’s just not fair, it’s not right, but it is what it is.
“They are entitled to make the decision and now, I guess, it’s on the player council, the tour management, to really decide along with the players what is the best solution in this situation, whether they keep the points, protect the points, take away 50 per cent of the points, or whatever.
“I really doubt that there won’t be any points. Probably the more realistic option is to protect the points from the Russian and Belarusian players that are not playing.”
Iga Swiatek, the women’s World No 1 has called for the governing bodies of tennis to unite in their decisions regarding the involvement of Russian and Belarusian players at tournaments, to avoid the ‘chaos’ created by Wimbledon’s unilateral move to ban them from this summer’s Championships.
Swiatek has been vocal in her support for Ukraine and has been wearing a ribbon with the country’s colours during her matches.
“The situation is getting like more and more chaotic, I would say,” Swiatek told reporters at the Madrid Open after announcing her withdrawal from the tournament to rest her right shoulder. “But I feel like it would be nice to have all these bodies making the proper decision so that we’re not going to have that kind of chaos.
“I feel like people are expecting us players to make the decision, but it’s pretty hard for us to make one because we know these people. We know each other.
“We are spending so much time on tour that it feels like we’re family.
“For sure it’s a tough situation and that’s why I think the actual people who are responsible for making this decision, they should make one decision that is going to last.”
WTA Player Council representative Victoria Azarenka is from Belarus, and took part in the meetings, claiming the Wimbledon ban ‘does not make sense’.
“There are going to be consequences,” she said. “A lot of people will be waiting to see the consequences of those decisions. I think based on that, individuals can make their own choices.”
“If you are asking me if I agree with Wimbledon, or I see their reasoning after being on a personal call with them, I don’t see their reasoning. It does not make sense and it does not connect to what they are saying.
“I think there should be a reaction to that, that is all I want to say. I have made my stance very clear on the issue.
“I will never, ever support war. I will never support violence. I will never find any justifications for that. That is all I can say right now.”
The LTA is facing potential fines from the WTA and ATP, while the removal of ranking points would hit the fields at warm-up events at Queen’s Club and Eastbourne, but Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska has backed the bans.
“How would I be able to play against those players at the tournament when all the world is talking about the war that is being fought against Ukraine?” said the World No 92. “So I think the decision they are making is right.”
Russian and Belarusian players are expected to be allowed to compete at this year’s French Open from 22 May to 5 June, with organisers refusing to follow the lead of Wimbledon in issuing a ban.
French Tennis Federation President Gilles Moretton has said athletes from the two nations will be able to compete at the second Grand Slam of the season under a ‘regime of strict neutrality’.
“The position has not changed,” said Moretton. “To date, we are in line with the declaration of March 9, 2022 by all the Sports Ministries of the European Union and other signatory countries, which aims to impose on Russian and Belarusian athletes a regime of strict neutrality.
“So no flag, no anthem. Point. We stay there. The position is that and we apply it.
“We are not going to go into the judgment and appreciation of the UK Government. Everyone has their position.”
Wimbledon’s ban means the likes of men’s World No 2 Daniil Medvedev of Russia and women’s World No 4 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will be unable to compete in the 3rd Grand Slam of the year, due to be held from 27 June to 10 July.
Several Ukrainian players have supported the stance taken by the AELTC and the LTA as Russia continues its military assault on their country, but Wimbledon has received a mixed reaction to it decision as some believe mixing politics with sports is not a good thing, while some preferred to stay neutral.
Last week, Elina Svitolina and several other Ukrainian players shared a message in which they demanded Russian and Belarusian players answer three questions.
“We don’t want them banned completely,” Svitolina said on BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast. “If players don’t speak out against the Russian government then it is the right thing to ban them.
“We just want them to speak up, if they are with us and the rest of the world or the Russian government. This is for me the main point.
“If they didn’t choose, they didn’t vote for this government, then it’s fair they should be allowed to play and compete.”
Meanwhile, Ons Jabeur has questioned why the war in Ukraine has caused Wimbledon to act when no other act of aggression since World War II has drawn a similar response.
For several years, after the second world war, Japanese and German players were barred from entering Wimbledon, while the club did not give in to significant public pressure to ban South African players from entering The Championships during apartheid, nor has it banned any player on the basis of nationality since the 1950s.
Jabeur cited the tennis world’s failure to act in support of the people of Palestine, revealing that she has received death threats for her statements on Israel.
“It’s a very tough decision, I understand what the Ukrainian people are going through and I am totally against war,” the World No 10 Jabeur said court-side after a first-round win in Madrid. “But what I’ve always been told for so many years is to never mix sports and politics.
“I’ve had some situations of my own, especially in 2020 in BJK Cup when we were supposed to play Israel.
“I 100 per cent feel very sorry for the Palestinian people and I feel sorry for the children that are dying every day for 74 years.
“What about all the other countries where people and children have been dying every day?
“For me, I don’t think we should mix politics and sports. It’s very sad what’s happening in the world.
“But I know that also Russians and Belarusians have their families back home, so I’m not sure how much they can talk about it.
“So it’s a very difficult situation for both, especially for Ukrainians.”
The ATP and the WTA have both denounced the AELTC decision as ‘discriminatory’, with Steve Simon, the women’s tour chief, last week, warning of ‘strong reactions’.
“We don’t have the same jurisdiction over the Grand Slams as we do [over] our own sanctioned events,” Simon admitted to The Tennis Podcast, before adding: “We have precedents… where these situations may have occurred where fines and tournament sanctions have been imposed.
“We need to sit down with our tournament, our player councils and I suppose our board, and see where everything’s at.
“I do think that you’ll see some strong reactions that will come from us, but what those are and how far they’ll go is still to be determined.”
Simon went on to add that, whatever reaction is taken by the governing bodies, they will be made independently with both the WTA and ATP making separate decisions.
“People take the position that sports and politics shouldn’t match and shouldn’t be intertwined, but that’s not the reality,” he added.
“It is real life. The announcement that came out was extremely disappointing, to say the least.
“The one thing that this sport has always agreed upon – we don’t agree on a lot of things but the one thing we have always been united on – was that entry into our events… has always been based upon merit and without discrimination.”
While Russian and Belarusian teams have been banned from competing in team events, individual players have been allowed to compete under a neutral flag, and Wimbledon is the first and, so far, the only event to explicitly announce a ban of those players, although the Italian government apparently is putting pressure on organisers of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome to follow suit.
The Italian Championships are due to start on 9 May with an announcement there also pending.