A ban from the FIFA World Cup didn’t stop any needless aggression from Russia in its brutal war on Ukraine. Even those Russians brave enough to speak out against Vladimir Putin’s needless invasion have felt the consequences of the barbaric actions of the Russian army, like Fedor Smolov. As another huge domino in the sports world fell on Wednesday, with the All England Lawn Tennis Club banning all Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing at this year’s Wimbledon event, more athletic collateral damage comes with it.
Banned from participating in the grass-court Grand Slam event is world men’s No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No. 8 Andrey Rublev, as well as WTA No. 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Rublev is the Russian who used a marker to write “no war please” on a camera a week after the war in Ukraine started. And Pavlyuchenkova went on CNN to denounce the war. Belarusian players barred from the event — because the country is being used as a key staging area for the Russian invasion — include Aryna Sabalenka, the women’s world No. 4 who advanced to Wimbledon’s semifinals a year ago and former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, currently No. 18 in the WTA.
Here’s a statement from the All England Club:
“Given the profile of the championships in the United Kingdom and around the world, it is our 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.”
This is the first ban of an entire country’s players from Wimbledon since the end of World War II, when Germany and Japan weren’t allowed entries into tennis’ signature event. The banishment of Russian and Belarusian players is the first such move from a tennis tournament. Organizations such as the International Tennis Federation decided in March that players from those countries would be allowed to compete in professional tournaments but not under the Russian or Belrusian flags. Official teams representing Belarus and Russia were banned from the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup.
Competitors from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete at the next Grand Slam tournament, the French Open, which starts May 22 as neutral athletes. The Parisian clay-court event is the first major since Russia’s war against Ukraine began. The first Grand Slam of 2022, the Australian Open, ended on Jan. 30, three weeks before the invasion began. The U.S. Tennis Association which oversees the U.S. Open, the year’s final major and begins in late August, has yet to make a decision on whether it too intends to ban players from Russia and Belarus.
“If circumstances change materially between now and June, we will consider and respond accordingly,” the All England Club added in its statement.
Two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Elina Svitolina, currently ranked No. 25 in the WTA, is the highest-ranked Ukrainian tennis player, male or female. Three other Ukrainian females are well within range to qualify for the event in No. 36 Anhelina Kalinina, No. 52 Marta Kostyuk and No. 92 Dayana Yastremska. Three other Ukrainian women are in contention, ranked between Nos. 135-146. The highest-ranked Ukrainian male is ATP No. 245 Vitaliy Sachko. Svitolina and retired Ukrainian tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky, who returned to Ukraine to fight the Russians, posted statements on social media asking tennis’ governing bodies to publicly state their stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The ban comes off harsh to those who make a living by playing tennis. The bottom lines of Medvedev and Azarenka would see a huge difference with a deep run at Wimbledon. The event’s organizers had to know a hard stance against Russian and Belaruisan players wouldn’t stop the war or be a needle-mover for Vladimir Putin. Their exile exposes tennis is not unified, which could have a ripple effect until the invasion’s end. Don’t expect the All England Club to reverse course from public outrage either.
Anyone supporting the war is a juggernaut of idiocy, obviously. Being against the invasion but allowing harmless tennis players the chance to compete should they publicly condemn the war should be a path for these players. The ATP’s top two players likely won’t compete at Wimbledon, as Novak Djokovic is unvaccinated. Tennis doesn’t need the spectacle and star power for its signature event with Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek slated to compete. Wimbledon should take a more diplomatic approach and let those from Russia and Belarus speak out against their country’s aggression against Ukraine and allow them to play. Refusal to condemn the war should keep an individual ban intact.
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