WAR IN EUROPE
Djokovic slams Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarusian players as ‘crazy’
Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from the 2022 Championships because of the war in Ukraine has drawn a mixed reaction.
World No 1 Novak Djokovic said Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is “crazy”.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club announced on Wednesday that it had barred all Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s championships due to the invasion, which Russia calls a “special operation”.
The grass-court Grand Slam is the first tennis tournament to ban individual competitors from the two countries, meaning men’s world No 2 Daniil Medvedev from Russia and women’s fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will be banned from the tournament which runs from June 27 to July 10.
Djokovic, who grew up in war-torn Serbia, said the athletes had nothing to do with the ongoing conflict.
“I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war,” Djokovic told reporters at the Serbia Open, an ATP 250 event in Belgrade.
“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.”
Wimbledon’s decision was swiftly condemned by the men’s and women’s tours as well as American great Martina Navratilova.
The move is the first time players have been banned on the grounds of nationality since the era immediately after World War 2 when German and Japanese players were excluded.
In a statement on Wednesday, the All England Lawn Tennis Club 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,” All England Club chairperson Ian Hewitt said in the statement.
The players have also been banned from the UK grass-court tournaments held in the build-up to Wimbledon.
ATP, WTA say decision is ‘unfair’
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), which governs men’s tennis, said the “unilateral decision” by Wimbledon to exclude players from Russia and Belarus 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,” it said.
“Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our board and member councils.”
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said it was “very disappointed” with the decision and was now “evaluating its next steps and what actions may be taken regarding these decisions”.
The WTA said: “Individual athletes should not be penalised or prevented from competing due to where they are from, or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.
“Discrimination, and the decision to focus such discrimination against athletes competing on their own as individuals, is neither fair nor justified.”
Both 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.
Navratilova, who won Wimbledon a record nine times between 1978 and 1990, called the move “the wrong decision”.
“Exclusion like this, through no fault of these players, is not the way to go,” she told LBC Radio.
“Tennis is such a democratic sport, it is difficult when you see politics destroy it. On the women’s side practically 10% of the field is not allowed to play,” added the Czech-born American whose wife is Russian.
“This decision was made in a vacuum by the All England Club. I understand their predicament, but I just don’t think they’re seeing the big picture in a more global way. But I am devastated by the decision, quite frankly.”
Hewitt said the All England Club 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.
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 International Tennis Federation told Reuters: “The decision by the [All England Club] and the [Lawn Tennis Association] has raised several questions and we are discussing those with each organisation.”
It added that its previous position – suspending both tennis federations for an indefinite period and allowing Russian and Belarusian players to only compete as neutral athletes – remains unchanged.
Earlier, Ukrainian players Elina Svitolina, Marta Kostyuk and Sergiy Stakhovsky – who had enlisted in Ukraine’s reserve before Russia’s invasion – called for a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events.
“We demand to exclude and ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in any international event, as Wimbledon has already done,” the three players said in a statement.
“In times of crisis, silence means agreeing with what is happening. We noticed that some Russian and Belarusian players at some point vaguely mentioned the war, but never clearly stating that Russia and Belarus started it on the territory of Ukraine.
“The very silence of those who choose to remain that way right now is unbearable as it leads to the continuation of murder in our homeland.”
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 added.
The United States Tennis Association, which organises the US Open, said it had not yet made a decision on the participation of Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s hardcourt major, which begins on 29 August.
British sports minister Nigel Huddleston said last month 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,” he 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.”
The All England Club said it would “consider and respond accordingly” if circumstances change between now and June”. DM/Reuters
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