The All England Club (AEC) has officially banned Russian and Belarussian tennis players from competing in the 2022 Wimbledon Championships.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, the AEC has described the ban as a “sad”, but necessary stand against the country’s “illegal actions” abroad.
The participation of the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Victoria Azarenka, has been in doubt ever since UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston stated that they would need to provide “assurances that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin”, before a House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee in March.
World No. 2 Medvedev, was one of the favourites to win the Championships. Photo: Matthew Stockman via Getty Images.
The AEC has now gone a step further, banning them outright in a bid to “limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible,” as outlined in a statement released yesterday.
“In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with the Championships,” it said.
“It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022.”
Men’s Tennis’ Governing Body, the ATP, has condemned the decision, describing it as discrimination that will set a harmful precedent.
“We believe that today’s unilateral decision by Wimbledon and the LTA to exclude players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s British grass-court swing is unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game,” the ATP said.
“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 ATP has indicated that it is exploring any potential means of overturning the ban.
“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) has also stated that it is “very disappointed in today’s announcement by the AELTC and the LTA to ban individual athletes who are from Russia and Belarus from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events.
“A fundamental principal of the WTA is that individual athletes may participate in professional tennis events based on merit and without any form of discrimination. That principle is expressly set forth in our rules and has been agreed to by both AELTC and LTA. Prohibitions against discrimination are also clearly expressed in their own rules and the Grand Slam rules,” says the WTA.
“The WTA has consistently stated, individual athletes should not be penalized 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.”
The Russian/Belarussian ban has drawn significant criticism on social media, with Novak Djokovic, Martina Navratilova and the Belarussian Tennis Federation (BTF), also criticising the AEC’s actions.
The BTF, in particular, is said to be aggressively pursuing international legal action to overturn the ban.
“Such destructive actions in no way contribute to the resolution of conflicts, but only incite hatred and intolerance on a national basis,” the BTF said in a statement.
“Throughout the history of tennis, armed conflicts have occurred in the world – in Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Yugoslavia and other countries – but never until now have tournament organisers suspended athletes from the United States, Great Britain and other countries.
“Illegal decisions of international tennis organisations in relation to our athletes undermine the reputation of these organisations.”
Despite the criticism and potential legal ramifications, Chairman of the All England Club, Ian Hewitt, said “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.
“We have very carefully considered the 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 at The Championships.”
While they will not be able to compete at Tennis’ biggest event, Russian and Belarussian players will still be permitted to compete at both ATP and WTA events, under a neutral flag, throughout the year.