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Russia's Daniil Medvedev plays at Wimbledon in London, Britain, July 3 2021. PIcture: REUTERS/PETER NICHOLLS
Russia's Daniil Medvedev plays at Wimbledon in London, Britain, July 3 2021. PIcture: REUTERS/PETER NICHOLLS

Wimbledon barred Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s championships due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, with the grass court Grand Slam becoming the first tennis tournament to ban individual competitors from the two countries.

The decision by the All England Lawn Tennis Club means Grand Slam champions Daniil Medvedev from Russia and Belarusian Victoria Azarenka will not be able to participate in the June 27-July 10 tournament.

In a statement, Wimbledon said it had to play its part in the efforts of government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to “limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible”.

“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,” chair  Ian Hewitt said in the statement.

Hewitt said Wimbledon had “carefully considered” 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,” he said.

The Kremlin said banning Russian players from Wimbledon would hurt the tournament given the country’s tennis prowess and described it as unacceptable.

The ATP, which governs men’s tennis, said the “unilateral decision” by Wimbledon to exclude players from Russia and Belarusian was “unfair” and could potentially set a damaging precedent for the game.

“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 men’s governing body said.

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

Wimbledon said it would “consider and respond accordingly” if circumstances change between now and June.

A ban on Russian players prevents world number two Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, ranked eighth, from competing in the men’s draw. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is 15th in the women’s rankings.

Belarus is a key staging area for the invasion, which Russia calls a “special military operation”.

Belarusian women’s world number four Aryna Sabalenka and her compatriot Azarenka, a two-time major champion, have also been barred.

Tennis governing bodies had banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion, but allowed players from the two countries to continue competing on their respective tours as neutrals.

Wrong

Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpischev told the country’s Sport Express newspaper that there was nothing it could do.

“I think this decision is wrong but there is nothing we can change,” Tarpischev said. “The (Russian) Tennis Federation has already done everything it could.

“I don’t want to talk about this, but I will say that this decision goes against the athletes... We are working on the situation, that's all I can say.”

Wimbledon said players from the two nations would also be banned from the grass court tournaments in Britain in the run-up to Wimbledon.

“The decision by the [Wimbledon] and the LTA has raised several questions and we are discussing those with each organisation,” the International Tennis Federation said. 

It added that its previous position suspending both tennis federations for an indefinite period and on allowing Russian and Belarusian players to only compete as neutral athletes remains unchanged at this time.

Earlier, Ukrainian players Elina Svitolina, Marta Kostyuk and Sergiy Stakhovsky — who had enlisted in Ukraine’s reserve army before Russia’s invasion — called for a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events.

International athlete-led pressure group Global Athlete said that banning players from the two countries would also “protect these athletes who have no choice to remove themselves from competitions”.

“These athletes must follow the orders from their countries’ leaders,” it said. 

The US Tennis Association, which organises the US Open, said it had not yet made a decision regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s hard court major, which begins on August 29.

British sSports minister Nigel Huddleston said in March that he would not be comfortable with a “Russian athlete flying the Russian flag” and winning Wimbledon in London.

Huddleston welcomed the latest decision.

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

“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.”

Reuters 

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