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Tours Argue Wimbledon Sets ‘Damaging Precedent’ in Barring Russian and Belarusian Players

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Skilled tennis, which had been unusually united of late, is back in disaccord after Wimbledon’s daring and difficult decision to bar Russian and Belarusian players from this 12 months’s tournament was met with strong disapproval by the boys’s and girls’s tours.

For just over 50 days, the ATP, WTA, International Tennis Federation and the 4 Grand Slam tournaments all agreed that the right response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Belarus’ support, was to ban Russia and Belarus from team events but allow their players to proceed competing as individuals albeit without national identification.

But Wimbledon, under pressure from the British government, broke ranks on Wednesday, and Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association also confirmed that it didn’t plan to permit Russian and Belarusian players to take part in the grass-court circuit that precedes Wimbledon and includes events in Eastbourne and at Queen’s Club in London.

“Given the profile of The Championships in the UK and world wide, it’s our responsibility to play our part within the widespread efforts of presidency, industry, sporting and inventive institutions to limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible,” Wimbledon said in an announcement Wednesday.

“Within the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it will be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any advantages from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships.”

Wimbledon, the oldest Grand Slam tournament, is scheduled to start in late June, and while the ATP and WTA have limited leverage over Wimbledon, which operates independently, the tours could respond by reducing or removing rankings points from the event. Individual players may additionally take legal motion.

The WTA said it was “very disenchanted” with Wimbledon’s decision, while the ATP in a separate statement called it “unfair” and said it had “the potential to set a harmful precedent for the sport.”

“Individual athletes shouldn’t be penalized or prevented from competing as a consequence of where they’re from, or the selections made by the governments of their countries,” the WTA said. “Discrimination, and the choice to focus such discrimination against athletes competing on their very own as individuals, is neither fair nor justified.”

Martina Navratilova, certainly one of the game’s biggest champions, said in an interview: “I don’t think that is the appropriate thing to do” and argued that though Ukrainians are the victims on this war, banning Russian and Belarusian players makes them victims, too.

But some Ukrainian former and current players, including Alexandr Dolgopolov, a retired player now serving within the Ukrainian military, praised the move. The query is whether or not, in light of Russia’s brutal invasion, there could be sufficient support from the total player group for strong countermeasures in favor of their Russian and Belarusian colleagues.

Wimbledon, in its statement, left open the potential for revising its position, stating that “if circumstances change materially between now and June, we are going to consider and respond accordingly.” But that may likely require the British government to melt its stance or require a fast resolution of the war in Ukraine’s favor, each of which seem highly unlikely.

The ban would block some highly ranked players from competing. 4 Russian men are ranked in the highest 30 on the ATP Tour, including No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who’s the reigning U.S. Open men’s singles champion, although he’s recovering from a hernia operation. Russia has five women in the highest 40 of the WTA Tour rankings, led by No. 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus is ranked No. 4 and was a Wimbledon semifinalist last 12 months.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary, expressed dismay with the ban. “Our players are among the many top on this planet rating and so the tournaments will suffer from their suspension,” Peskov told reporters during a daily briefing. “Once more, it’s unacceptable to make athletes hostages of political prejudice, intrigue and hostile actions toward our country.”

Officials with the ATP and WTA have expressed support for Ukraine but argued that the Russian and Belarusian players shouldn’t be blamed for the invasion or their countries’ policies and remarked that several leading players, including the Russian stars Andrey Rublev, ranked No. 8 in men’s singles, and Pavlyuchenkova, have made clear their opposition to the war.

“In fact it’s very tragic, what’s happening on this planet,” said Yevgeny Kafelnikov, a Russian who was ranked No. 1 in singles within the late Nineteen Nineties, in an interview from Moscow. “I’m totally shocked with what is occurring, but to carry hostage people like Medvedev, Rublev and Pavlyuchenkova, I feel it’s fallacious. And knowing what form of position they took before when this all began, I feel Wimbledon is making a mistake on this one. They’ve gone a bit too far.”

But though there are questions on why the sports world is barring athletes on this instance after declining to accomplish that during many previous conflicts, quite a few international sports, including track and field and figure skating, have excluded individual Russian and Belarusian athletes from competitions. The Boston Marathon barred those that live in Russia and Belarus from Monday’s race, facing some blowback from runners who said they don’t get to decide on where they’re born. But Wimbledon ultimately decided that it didn’t need to risk the optics of a Russian or Belarusian player holding up a champion’s trophy on the a hundredth anniversary of its iconic Centre Court.

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments

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Moscow’s next move? Russia appears to be preparing to annex two regions in eastern Ukraine and possibly a 3rd within the country’s south, a senior American diplomat said. The official said that the Kremlin would almost definitely stage “sham” elections to formally seize control.

Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, said of Wimbledon’s decision: “We recognize that this is difficult on the individuals affected, and it’s with sadness that they are going to suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime.”

After the invasion began in February, tennis was quick to bar the Russians and their Belarusian allies from team events just like the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup, each of which were won by Russian teams in 2021. The game’s seven governing bodies announced that ban collectively on March 1.

But there had been calls for more from several former and current Ukrainian players, including the rising women’s star Marta Kostyuk and the previous player Olga Savchuk, the captain of Ukraine’s Billie Jean King Cup team, which competed against america in Asheville, N.C., last week.

“It cannot just be a sanction against 90 percent of the Russian people and 10 percent not,” Savchuk said. “In case you give it some thought, why is anyone who works in McDonald’s in Russia losing their job due to sanctions and the tennis players are exceptions? It needs to be even, and I feel it’s collective guilt.”

Wimbledon could remain an outlier on this issue among the many Grand Slam tournaments. Leaders of the French Open, which begins next month and is the following Grand Slam event on the calendar, have shown some resistance behind the scenes to Russians competing as individuals in Paris but have made no move toward a ban. The USA Tennis Association said on Wednesday that no decision has been made regarding Russian and Belarusian players’ participation on this 12 months’s U.S. Open, which can be held in Recent York in late August and early September.

For now, regular tour events — like this week’s ATP event in Barcelona, Spain — are proceeding with Russians and Belarusians of their draws. But Wimbledon got here under considerable pressure from the British government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to take a stronger stance. Wimbledon received government guidance last month recommending that prospective Russian and Belarusian players should provide “written declarations” that they weren’t representing their countries; not receiving state funding or sponsorship from corporations with strong links to the Russian state; and had not and wouldn’t express support for the invasion of Ukraine or their countries’ leadership.

Put in a difficult position, Wimbledon decided against requiring players to effectively denounce their governments out of concern that it will put them or their families in a precarious situation. A ban, though not a part of Wimbledon officials’ initial considering, prevents players from having to make such a alternative and likewise averts potential controversy throughout the tournament linked to the scrutiny of player declarations.

Wimbledon has not barred individual athletes from specific countries for the reason that aftermath of World War II when players from Germany, Japan and other nations weren’t permitted to play within the tournament.

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

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