Defend Truth


Djokovic slams Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarusian players as ‘crazy’

Djokovic slams Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarusian players as ‘crazy’
Novak Djokovic in action against fellow Serb Laslo Djere during their second-round match at the Serbia Open in Belgrade on 20 April 2022. The world No 1 said athletes have nothing to do with the war in Ukraine. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Andrej Cukic)

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.

Daniil Medvedev of Russia serves against Hubert Hurkacz of Poland in quarterfinals at the Miami Open in Florida on 31 March 2022. The world No 2 has been banned from Wimbledon over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich)

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.”

I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war,’ said Novak Djokovic of Serbia, pictured here in action at the Serbia Open in Belgrade on 20 April 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Andrej Cukic)

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. 

‘Wrong decision’

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.”

World No 2 Daniil Medvedev from Russia and women’s fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus have been banned from Wimbledon as well as all the grass-court warm-up tournaments. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich)

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.

Calls heard

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


[hearken id=”daily-maverick/9366″]


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme J says:

    I think that Djokovic would be a lot less critical of the ban on Russian/Belarusian tennis players if Russia had invaded Serbia instead of Ukraine. I am sure he would be calling for a ban long before the Russians started shelling Belgrade. He is a hypocrite.

  • Michael Hayman says:

    Djokovic is 100% correct!

  • Jason Stramrood says:

    I would be interested in his views on the sanctions imposed on South African athletes during apartheid. It is undeniable that these restrictions put a pressure on an oppressive regime and are instrumental in making changes from within. It is not about the individual athlete but rather their Nationality. Enough Russian citizens impacted negatively may drive the regime change required.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Putting (or is it Putin ?) much stock on what Djokovic says or thinks these days, is wasted following his inglorious and reckless stance on covid. Regarding the often repeated claim that post world war 2, no country’s athletes have been barred from participation in sports, flies in the face of apartheid S.A.s sports peoples exclusion from international sports ! This was because of the outrageous
    and hideous policy of the regime. Remember how many S.A. sportspeople took out citizenship/nationality of ‘other’ countries to continue their pursuit of their codes of sports ? Please stop this nonsense of thinking or claiming that the ‘exclusion’ of sports people from certain countries is unprecedented . It may not be ‘fair’ to the sports persons concerned … but it is not unheard of ! They do have the option of renouncing their support of the ‘regime’ turning them into ‘outcasts’.

  • Dr Know says:

    Apart from his obvious tennis skills, Mr No Vax is no reputable source to quote. Let him get airtime for his sport, not his dubious opinions from his opinionated self.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    sportspeople should stay away from politics. I have not heard any of these mentioned condemning Russia for their brutal attack on Ukraine.

  • Johann Olivier says:

    No comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Download the Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox.

+ Your election day questions answered
+ What's different this election
+ Test yourself! Take the quiz