Opinion: Why banning Russian and Belarus players at Wimbledon is the wrong decision

I went back and forth to find out if the AELTC had made the right decision. But after many conversations with people on both ends of this political argument – ​​because it is political – I have come to a conclusion. The club made the wrong choice.

On Monday, the oldest and arguably most prestigious tennis tournament in the world kicks off with a ban on Russian and Belarusian players – a move criticized by the men’s ATP and women’s WTA, who in response strip the tournament of its points. ranking.
The last time Wimbledon banned players from certain countries was after World War II, when it targeted German and Japanese athletes. Now, more than seven decades later, the tournament is once again at the crossroads between sport and politics.
Although the AELTC’s decision in 2022 was well-intentioned, it has become increasingly clear that it is not the right one. The club’s official statement on the ban, issued in April, read in part: “We share universal condemnation of Russia’s illegal actions and have carefully considered the situation in the context of our duties to the players, to our community and to the wider UK public as a UK sporting institution.We have also considered the guidelines set out by the UK government specifically in relation to sporting bodies and events.
Let’s break this down a bit – first, “universal doom”. Many of us around the world agree that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are illegal – but not everyone, as seen in recent UN General Assembly votes calling for an end to the war. It should be noted that not all countries agreed.

Then the club mentions its “duties to the players, to our community and to the general British public as a British sporting institution”. I am intrigued by this part of the statement on many levels. How are Wimbledon’s duties to players different from other professional tennis tournaments around the world? Yes, we all know Wimbledon is unique, it’s special – and don’t they like to remind us of that.

No doubt, Wimbledon is extremely prestigious. It is one of four Grand Slam tournaments that are played every year, except during world wars and pandemics. But honestly, for the players, it’s another tournament.

And what about Wimbledon’s duties to the community and the general public? You would think that all the other professional tennis tournaments that have taken place around the world also have a similar duty – especially the big events across Europe in recent months. None of these events – including the French Open, another of tennis’ four “majors”, and the Italian Open in Rome – had any problems related to this war or to individual players from Russia and from Belarus in particular.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF), the governing body of world tennis, oversees Olympic tennis competition and organizes annual team competitions by country. It, like most other major sports, rightly banned all Russian and Belarusian teams from international competitions.

But the AELTC decision penalizes individual athletes in a way that other tournaments don’t. Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, the two top Russian male players, lost a chance to compete at Wimbledon as top 10. In fact, Medvedev is currently the highest ranked male player in the world.
And Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus is currently the 6th player in the world and reached the Wimbledon semifinals last year.

It’s not just the top players, but countless other professionals who have lost their chance to play at Wimbledon this year – and perhaps for years to come. Is it really fair?

It is well known that Russian President Vladimir Putin likes to use success in the sports world to amplify his political influence and highlight Russian superiority. The All England club statement addresses the issue, saying it would be “unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players in the Championships”. And in that case, the AELTC considers even the possibility of a Russian or a Belarusian holding up a trophy on center court at Wimbledon as too gruesome to entertain.
The AELTC emphasizes its unique profile on the world sports scene and its special position to “limit Russia’s global influence by the strongest means possible”. And it’s certainly clear that various governments, businesses and creative institutions are trying to strike the right balance by doing the same. In this particular case though, the club tipped the scales in the wrong direction.

In two of the men’s grass events leading up to Wimbledon, Medvedev reached back-to-back finals – one in the Netherlands and another tournament in Germany. There were no protests, no disturbances, even with the participation and success of a player like Medvedev.

Yes, Wimbledon is bigger, more global and prestigious than these events. But I find it increasingly unlikely, given what we’ve seen in other sporting events around the world, that if Wimbledon allowed Russian and Belarusian players to compete, it would face problems that it wouldn’t couldn’t handle.

More often than not, Wimbledon has been ahead of the curve in just about everything it has done to promote the game and its event. This time however, he double faulted.


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