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Tennis officials have banned Russian and Belarusian players from competing at Wimbledon this year, citing “unjustified and unprecedented military aggression” in Ukraine.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Championship Management Committee announced Wednesday that they made the decision based on government guidelines for sporting events and after considering their duties to the players, their community and the general British public.
“Given the profile of the championships in the UK and around the world, it is our responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit the global influence of Russia by the strongest means possible,” they said. wrote.
Wimbledon, one of four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, will take place in London from June 27 to July 10. The organizers said in their statement that “if circumstances change materially” by then, they will think and react accordingly.
The move wasn’t entirely unexpected: sports industry site Sportico reported for the first time the news on Tuesday, with UK outlets including the Guardian and BBC saying that an announcement would be imminent.
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) – the governing body of tennis in Britain – has also announced Wednesday that it joins the AELTC in banning Russian and Belarusian players from its events, so that British tennis can provide “a consistent approach to all events over the summer”.
The ban makes Wimbledon one of the first tennis events to suspend players from both countries since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, and excludes several top players from the competition.
These include men’s world number 2 Daniil Medvedev of Russia and women’s world number 4 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. There are four Russian men in the top 30 – including two in the top 10 – and two Belarusian women in the top 20, the Guardian notes.
Russia and Belarus suffered consequences in the world of tennis
Athletes from Russia and Belarus have been allowed to remain on the ATP and WTA Tours (not playing under their country’s name or flag) and register to compete in the French Open, which begins on 22 may.
However, they have been shunned by the tennis world in many other ways.
Russia have been barred from defending their titles in two team events: the Davis Cup and last week’s Billie Jean King Cup (in which the United States narrowly beat Ukraine in the qualifying round after a tie.) The WTA and ATP have suspended a combined event due to take place in Moscow this fall, and the International Tennis Federation has also canceled its events in Russia.
Supporters of the ban say it would send a strong message
The AELTC had consulted with the British government on whether to let Russian and Belarusian athletes compete at Wimbledon, which is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and widely regarded as the most prestigious.
UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said last month that “no one flying the flag of Russia should be allowed or permitted” to play there.
“But I think we need to go beyond that, I think we need to have assurances that they are not Vladimir Putin supporters and we are thinking about what requirements we might need to get assurances in that sense,” he added. “In short, would I be comfortable with a Russian athlete flying the flag of Russia? No.”
Several former and current Ukrainian players have also called for such a ban. Olga Savchuk, captain of the Ukrainian Billie Jean King Cup team, said The New York Times that “it cannot just be a sanction against 90% of the Russian people and 10% not”.
“It has to be equal and I think it’s collective guilt,” she added.
Some critics say athletes shouldn’t have to pay for their governments’ actions
However, not everyone is convinced. WTA Director Steve Simon told the BBC last month that he believed players should not be penalized because of “authoritarian leadership decisions”.
He added that the WTA had never before banned athletes from taking part in its tour because of their country’s political positions, and that it would take something very significant for that to change.
“I hope we continue the sanctions, we continue to do everything we can to achieve peace, but again, these people are the innocent victims of it, and being isolated as a result of these decisions, I don’t think not that it’s fair.”
The LTA acknowledged in its Wednesday announcement that individual athletes may not support the actions of their governments, but said it felt it was important to do everything possible to support Ukraine and that the ban had the support of the British public.
“After careful consideration, the LTA believes that tennis must join many other areas of sport and public life to send a clear signal to the Russian and Belarusian states that their actions in Ukraine are subject to international condemnation.” , officials wrote.
They added: “The continued participation of Russian and Belarusian nationals in events risks giving these regimes a boost while there is an unprecedented international effort to isolate them and sanction their actions.”
Some Russian athletes have spoken out against the war
Several Russian actors have notably protested against the war on the world stage.
A day after the first invasion of Russia, Andrey Rublev wrote “no war please” on one of the court’s cameras. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the highest ranked Russian player, spoke about the war in a tweet since deleted in which she wrote that “personal ambitions or political motives cannot justify violence”.
Medvedev also called for peace. He said last month that he hoped to continue playing on the world stage.
“It’s always difficult to talk about this topic because I want to play tennis – play in different countries,” he said, according to Eurosport. “I want to promote my sport, I want to promote what I do in my country for sure, and right now the situation is that it’s the only way for me to play.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the morning edition live blog.