Martina Navratilova slams Wimbledon’s ban of Russian players

The British Government has previously indicated that Russian and Belarusian players would need to denounce Vladimir Putin’s regime in order to compete at Wimbledon. But the AELTC ultimately decided that this was an unreasonable request to make, given the likelihood of reprisals against players’ families, and that it would be fairer and cleaner to make the decision themselves.

The Government expressed support for Wimbledon’s decision, with sports minister Nigel Huddleston welcoming the “decisive action” and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries adding: “This decision means Putin won’t use the most iconic grand slam in tennis to try to legitimize the horrors he is inflicting on the Ukrainian people. The right move.”

In the AELTC’s favour, they can fall back on their status as a private members’ club. This gives them more latitude to act unilaterally than any other organization in tennis, while also giving them a better chance of defending their decision in a court of law.

The LTA, however, will be more exposed by their position as franchise-holders within the structure of the two main tours. The former Russian Davis Cup player Andrei Olhovskiy suggested on Wednesday that “it is necessary to file a class-action lawsuit” against any organization attempting to exclude Russian and Belarusian players from competing.

Medvedev is not the only high-profile men’s player who faces missing out this summer. The ban will also exclude Andrey Rublev, Karen Khachanov and Aslan Karatsev, who are among the world’s top 30 men. Rublev had written the words “no war please” on a television camera lens last month after winning a match in Dubai.

On the women’s side, the Belarusians Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka, a gold medalist at London 2012, will be banned, as well as the Russian trio of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Daria Kasatkina and Veronika Kudermetova. All are in the top 30 in the women’s rankings.

Responding to the news, three leading Ukrainian players – Elina Svitolina, Marta Kostyuk and Sergiy Stakhovsky – called for other tennis bodies to emulate the British stance. “We demand to exclude and ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in any international event, as Wimbledon has already done,” the statement said.

“In times of crisis, silence means agreeing with what is happening. We noticed that some Russian and Belarusian players at some point vaguely mentioned the war, but never clearly stating that Russia and Belarus started it on the territory of Ukraine. The very silence of those who choose to remain that way right now is unbearable as it leads to the continuation of murder in our homeland.”

But Shamil Tarpischev, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, criticized the ban.

“Absolutely unfair decision regarding athletes,” said Tarpischev. “Since when does the country disqualify athletes and for what? What are Russian and Belarusian athletes to blame for? The decision was made without the opinion of international sports organisations, organizations that specialize in tennis. Who are they making this decision? It turns out that the country [Great Britain] ‘runs over’ our athletes. Why on earth, it’s not clear to me.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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