Wimbledon supports Ukraine, bans players from Russia and Belarus

by Christopher Johnson 

—In support of Ukraine, the All England Club will prohibit Russians and Belarusians from playing at The Championships at Wimbledon this year. 

The ATP and the WTA, which organize the men’s and women’s world tours, have called the move “unfair”.

The move comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s surprise visit to Kyiv last week with pledges to arm Ukraine against Russia’s ongoing invasion. US President Joe Biden and other Western leaders and organizations have accused Russia of committing genocide in Ukraine. Russian leader Vladimir Putin, calls it a “special military operation” to “liberate” the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine and “demilitarize” Ukraine.

Along with the 1990s war in the former Yugoslavia, the ongoing war in Ukraine is the most deadly conflict in Europe since the Second World War, when German aerial bombardment severely damaged the All England Club, including Centre Court.

“On behalf of the All England Club and the Committee of Management of The Championships, we wish to express our ongoing support for all those impacted by the conflict in Ukraine during these shocking and distressing times,” the AELTC said in a statement. “We share in the 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 broader UK public as a British sporting institution. We have also taken into account guidance set out by the UK Government specifically in relation to sporting bodies and events.”

The All England Club said they have a responsibility “to play our part in the widespread efforts of Government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible.”

“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,” the AELTC said. “It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022.” 

About a dozen players from Russia and Belarus, including Daniil Medvedev, Andrei Rublev, Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka, are currently among the top 50 male and female players, though none would be favorites to win on grass.  

Ian Hewitt, Chairman of the All England Club, commented: “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.”

Mr. Hewitt said the AELTC would reconsider the ban if circumstances change between now and June. The Lawn Tennis Association has also banned Russian and Belarusian players from other UK events this summer. 

In a statement on its website, the ATP condemned Russia’s “reprehensible invasion” of Ukraine but also said the AELTC’s move “has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game.”

“Our sport is proud to operate on the fundamental principles of merit and fairness, where players compete as individuals to earn their place in tournaments based on the ATP Rankings. 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’s statement 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. Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our Board and Member councils.”

“It is important to stress that players from Russia and Belarus will continue to be allowed to compete at ATP events under a neutral flag, a position that has until now been shared across professional tennis,” the ATP said. “In parallel, we will continue our joint humanitarian support for Ukraine under Tennis Plays for Peace.”

The Women’s Tennis Association issued a similar statement on its website. “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.”