Talking point

‘Outright civil war’ in tennis as Wimbledon faces up to Putin

Furious tennis authorities condemn ‘discriminatory and unfair’ ban of Russian and Belarusian players

Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament has prompted predictable outrage, said Simon Briggs in The Daily Telegraph. But no one expected it to plunge the sport into “outright civil war”: the bodies that run the men’s and women’s tours – the ATP and WTA – have both issued furious statements, condemning the move as “discriminatory and unfair”. There has even been talk of them withdrawing ranking points from the tournament, effectively turning it into an “exhibition event”. 

It’s already true that Wimbledon without any Russians or Belarusians will be much devalued as a sporting contest, said Ben Rothenberg on Slate. There was a “real possibility” this year of a player from either nation winning a singles title. “Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka is ranked fourth in the WTA top 10, and Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are ranked No. 2 and No. 8 on the men’s side, respectively.” 

Yet what was Wimbledon supposed to do, asked Henry Mance in the FT. Any Russian success at the tournament would doubtless have been “exploited by the Kremlin”, and there was also the prospect of Russian players being continually pressed to condemn Putin, yet feeling “unable to do so”. The ban is far from ideal, but before rushing to condemnation, we should remember that the “shunning of Russian athletes worldwide is a predictable result of Putin’s atrocities”.

Djokovic: it’s a ‘crazy’ decision

Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, explained that the organisation had taken UK Government guidance on limiting Russia’s influence into account, InsideTheGames reported. Defending the “agonising decision” to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s grass-court grand slam, Hewitt added that there was “no viable alternative”.

In reaction to the ban, men’s world No. 1 Novak Djokovic branded the decision as “crazy”. The Serbian, a six-time Wimbledon champion, said he will “always condemn war” but he “cannot support the decision”. He added: “I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good.”

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