IMAGE: All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain – June 25, 2021 A general view of No.1 Court. Photograph: Jon Super/Reuters
Wimbledon barred Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s championships due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, with the grasscourt Grand Slam becoming the first tennis tournament to ban individual competitors from the two countries.
The decision by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) 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.
“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,” AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt said in the statement.
Hewitt said the AELTC 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.
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.
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.
The Lawn Tennis Association said players from the two nations would also be banned from the grasscourt tournaments in Britain in the run-up to Wimbledon.
“The decision by the AELTC and the LTA has raised several questions and we are discussing those with each organisation,” the International Tennis Federation told Reuters.
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 prior to 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.”
The United States Tennis Association, which organises the U.S. Open, said it had not yet made a decision regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s hardcourt major which begins on Aug. 29.
British Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said last month 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.