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Wimbledon | AELTC defends agonising decision

Repercussions continue following Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at The Championships this year following the invasion of Ukraine.

We understand and deeply regret the impact this decision will have on every individual affected - and so many innocent people are suffering as a result of this terrible war. But, bound to act, we believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances, and there is no viable alternative within the framework of the Government’s position to the decision we have taken in this truly exceptional and tragic situation. Ian Hewitt, Chairman AELTC

The ATP and WTA Tours registered their objections to the move, citing discrimination and pointing out that the decision is in breach of the rules while promising counter-measures.

Chiefs from both tours are reportedly holding a meeting in Madrid this week to discuss turning Wimbledon into an ‘exhibition event’ this summer, with no ranking points on offer.

Daniil Medvedev, Aryna Sabalenka, Andrey Rublev and Victoria Azarenka are among the highest-ranked players who will not be able to compete at the grass court Grand Slam, or in any of the grass court tournaments leading up to it in the UK, and are voicing their discontent.

It is the first time that players have been banned on the grounds of nationality since German and Japanese were excluded in the post-World War Two era.

Now the AELTC has defended its decision, saying there was ‘no viable alternative’ as the Club had to take UK Government guidance on limiting Russia’s influence into account.

Ian Hewitt, the AELTC’s Chairman, told a Wimbledon media briefing that the organisation had to take Government guidance into account as a ‘high-profile event and leading British institution’, and alluding to the exceptional circumstances caused by the conflict in Ukraine.

“We believe this is an extreme and exceptional situation that takes us far beyond the interests of tennis alone,” Hewitt said. “Russia’s ongoing invasion and the catastrophic harm to millions of lives taking place in Ukraine has been condemned worldwide by over 140 nations.

“Government, industry, sport and creative institutions are all playing their part in efforts to limit Russia’s global influence including any benefit from trade, cultural or sporting shows of strength.

“As part of that response, the UK Government has set out directional guidance for sporting bodies and events in the UK, with the specific aim of limiting Russia’s influence.

“We have taken that directional guidance into account, as we must as a high-profile event and leading British institution.

“For clarity, it does not allow for automatic entry to Wimbledon based on rankings alone. We have considered at length, the options available within the scope of this clear Government position.

“These are in effect two options, declining entries or allowing entries only with specific written declarations from individual players.

“We considered a wide variety of factors including player and public safety, humanitarian efforts to support in the conflict, and the response of other sports in seeking to limit Russia’s influence.

“After careful consideration against a variety of factors, we came to two firm conclusions that have formed the basis for our decision.

“First, even if we were to accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players with written declarations, we would risk their success or participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime – which we could not accept.

“Second, we have a duty to ensure that no actions we take should put the safety or welfare of players, or their families, at risk.

“We understand and deeply regret the impact this decision will have on every individual affected – and so many innocent people are suffering as a result of this terrible war. But, bound to act, we believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances, and there is no viable alternative within the framework of the Government’s position to the decision we have taken in this truly exceptional and tragic situation.”

Gold medalists Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev will not be allowed to compete at Wimbledon in an effort to limit Russia's influence

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Those affected were quick to react when Wimbledon first announced its decision last week, with Medvedev tweeting: “I hear the @atptour and @WTA are meeting in Madrid to discuss potentially taking away all ranking points from @Wimbledon championships this year so in essence turning it then into an exhibition event.”

The ATP released a statement saying Wimbledon’s decision sets a ‘damaging precedent’: “Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP rankings.”

The WTA stated: “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.”

Rublev branded the AELTC’s decision as ‘complete discrimination’, tweeting: “The reasons they gave us had no sense, they were not logical.

“Banning Russian or Belarusian players will not change anything,” he added, suggesting organisers would have a greater impact by instead donating prize money to a worthy cause.

“To give all the prize money to humanitarian help, to the families who are suffering, to the kids who are suffering, I think that would do something, at least a bit. “Tennis will, in that case, be the first and only sport who donates that amount of money and it will be Wimbledon so they will take all the glory.”

In fact, Wimbledon, through its Foundation, has been active in supporting the Ukraine crisis response, donating £100,000 to the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal, £50,000 to the DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal, and £20,000 locally to Association for Polish Family, an existing charity partner, who have been collecting essentials to support the tens of thousands of Ukrainians crossing the Polish border.

Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov hit back, saying: “This statement of Rublev is a perfect example, why LTA decision is the right decision.

“Exactly what his president [Vladimir Putin] and their propaganda does every day – LIE!

‘’ ‘I don’t know anything, I’m not reading the news, I’m not following, I have no education.’ – LIE.

“Rublev played doubles with a Ukrainian player 10 days before the start of the big war, has straight contact to any Ukrainian player on tournaments and yes, he surely knows what is happening, considering he wrote ‘no war’ on camera in the first days of this war.

“Andrei, you want to know what’s happening? Try Googling one word – Bucha, Or I’m sure you have my contact, feel free to ask, I will show you.”

Novak Djokovic, the men's defending Wimbledon, is critical of the AELTC's decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from The Championships this year

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

The Wimbledon ban has sparked a lot of debate among fans and professionals alike. Novak Djokovic and Martian Navratilova both recently slammed the decision from the organisers.

“I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war,” the Serbian World No 1 said. “I know how much emotional trauma it leaves.

“In Serbia we all know what happened in 1999. In the Balkans we have had many wars in recent history. However, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good.”

Navratilova told LBC: “The Russian and Belarusian players, some have even expressed, vocalised, their opposition to the war.

“The only option therefore now for them to play would be to leave their country. That’s something that I had to do in 1975, because of a totalitarian regime, and now we are asking them to do the same, because of politics, because of optics.

“I understand the banning of teams, of course, representing the countries, but on an individual level, I just think it’s wrong.”

Sportsmail reported that Andy Murray is prepared to defend Wimbledon’s position on the matter when he next attends an open press conference, as does Andrew Castle, who insists the AELTC has made the right call.

Speaking on his LBC show, the former British No 1, who is a lead commentator for the BBC, admitted he was ‘torn’ by the move that will see Medvedev, Rublev and Sabalenka blocked from playing on the famous grass courts this year.

Nevertheless, Castle suggested their inconvenience is necessary to ensure President Putin and his Russian war machine are denied any potential boosts by a Russian success at Wimbledon.

“These players are being discriminated against and I say that’s ok,” said Castle. “I say that’s ok because of the scenes I watch unfold in Mariupol and Melitopol and Odessa.

“People are dying – in Mariupol right now they are starving to death. Mass graves are being dug.

“What is it going to take for us to realise that this is not going to stop unless we are all united across creative arts, sport, industry, business, military…everybody.

“This is out of proportion to anything that we have seen – probably in our lifetime – and may we never see it again.”

Castle added that the Russian and Belarusian players are victims of war started by their own nation, as he argued they have to pay a personal price.

“We’re all affected by this, so why should they not be affected for the actions of their government?

“Why should Ukrainians be starving to death, orphaned and raped?

“You say it’s unfair, the governing body of the ATP and the WTA say it’s unfair, it’s discrimination, it’s wrong.

“I’ll give you wrong and unfair: what’s taking place in Ukraine.

“A message has to be sent – a message of unity.”

Organisers of the Internazionali BNL D'Italia at Foro Italico in Rome are also considering a ban of Russian and Belarusian players

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Wimbledon could have a potential ally in the Italian Open, which is now reportedly considering banning Russian and Belarusian stars from competing.

According to Italian publication Corriere Della Sera, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is considering not allowing players from Russia and Belarus to compete at the tournament, which is scheduled to start on 9 May.

Angelo Binaghi, the President of the Italian Tennis Federation, said it would be his dream ‘to play the Italian anthem and the Ukrainian anthem before the final’, adding: “it would be fun to see a Russian player in the final in this context.”

Giovanni Malagò, President of the Italian National Olympic Committee, added that a ban at the Italian Open would be ‘in line with the decisions of the IOC on individual sports’.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Tennis Federation (BTF) has claimed the decision to bar players is illegal and will consider legal action.

“At the moment, consultations of the BTF leadership with international law firms on sports law are ongoing and a strategy is being developed that is aimed at protecting, first of all, Belarusian tennis players around the world, and tennis in the Republic of Belarus as a whole,” the organisation stated.

The Russian Tennis Federation has reportedly said it is ‘monitoring’ the situation, but has not lodged an appeal to date.

Former Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky, who is defending his homeland, is grateful for Wimbledon's decision

© Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Retired Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky, who has joined the country’s military reserves to fight in the ongoing war with Russia, has backed Wimbledon’s ban.

“I cannot say it was a joyful reaction but it is something I believe should be done,” Stakhovsky was quoted by the Mail on Sunday.

“In the first two weeks of the war I was more laid back about it, thinking that every individual should be judged based on their stance, but we know how the Russian troops are behaving in the occupied cities.

“We know what they can do: slaughter, rape, torture. So I’m sorry, I now have a different view.

“To be honest I was a bit shocked because it is a very strong stance which I did not expect.

“But of course I am grateful for their decision because I don’t think there is anything else that can be done right now.”

Stakhovsky insisted that Russian and Belarusian players should speak out against the war, despite potential repercussions.

“You cannot be neutral,” he argues. “If they are scared about financial repercussions or spending a night in jail well I’m sorry, that is still better than a rocket landing on your doorstep.”

According to the United Nations, at least 2,435 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the military offensive, although it is feared the true figure is far higher, and more than 5.1 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine.



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