Russian, Belarusian tennis players barred from Wimbledon

Wimbledon has not banned athletes from countries since after World War II, when it barred players from Germany and Japan.

Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to play at Wimbledon this year because of the war in Ukraine, the All England Club announced Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
A spectator holding a Russian flag during the men's singles tennis match between Russia's Daniil Medvedev and Croatia's Marin Cilic at the Wimbledon Championships in 2021 [File: Alberto Pezzali/AP]

Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to compete at this year’s Wimbledon tournament due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) said.

Among the prominent players affected by the ban are reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who recently reached number one in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings; men’s number-eight-ranked Andrey Rublev; Aryna Sabalenka, who was a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2021 and is number four in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings; Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, a former women’s number one who has won the Australian Open twice; and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the French Open runner-up last year.

“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,” Ian Hewitt, chairman of the AELTC, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The tennis organisation had “carefully considered” alternative measures that might be taken within United Kingdom government guidance, he said.

“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,” Hewitt said.

Wimbledon, the most high-profile of tennis’s four Grand Slam events, runs from June 27 to July 10 this year.

Russian officials had reacted angrily to the reports of the ban, deeming it “unacceptable”.

“Once again they simply turn athletes into hostages to political prejudice, political intrigues,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“This is unacceptable. Taking into account that Russia is a very strong tennis country, our athletes are at the top of world rankings, the competition itself will suffer from their removal.”

Tennis governing bodies had banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the February 24 invasion. Russian and Belarusian players, however, had been allowed to compete on tours but not under the name or flag of their countries.

At present, Russian and Belarusian players are still able to compete at the French Open, which starts in May.

“I think this decision is wrong but there is nothing we can change,” Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpischev told the country’s Sport Express newspaper earlier.

“The [Russian] Tennis Federation has already done everything it could,” he said.

“I don’t want to talk about this, but I will say that this decision goes against the athletes … We are working on the situation, that’s all I can say.”

Wimbledon has not banned athletes from countries since after World War II, when players from Germany and Japan were not allowed to compete.

Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, Ukrainian tennis players Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk issued statements calling for a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events.

International athlete-led pressure group Global Athlete said 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.

British Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston had said last month that he would not be comfortable with a “Russian athlete flying the Russian flag” and winning Wimbledon in London.

Source: News Agencies