New calls to restrict Wimbledon plastic bottles, despite Nadal ritual | Plastic


Former Wimbledon junior champion Laura Robson has joined calls for Wimbledon to limit the use of plastic bottles.

The 28-year-old added that Wimbledon should either ban single-use bottles or limit players to just one, adding that fines for breaking the rules were “perhaps something that needs to happen”.

But the Olympic silver medalist acknowledged the restrictions would hit Spaniard Rafael Nadal, because he is “superstitious” and known for carefully lining up multiple water bottles as part of a long-established ritual on the court.


In a panel discussion on the environment at SW19 today, Robson said: “There’s all the players on the practice pitches, just taking a couple of sips from a water bottle and then leaving it there. Should there be a fine, maybe? We’re kidding about it, but maybe that’s something that needs to happen.

“I don’t know how you would go about implementing that, if you would have judicial coverage to rat people out on the court. I don’t know how you would go about organizing it, but it would be a start.”

Robson was joined by Hattie Park, sustainability manager of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, and former GB rower Melissa Wilson, who said Wimbledon should follow the example of the French Open. Players used only reusable bottles this year after France’s government banned single-use plastic.

“The players had to use reusable bottles and they were branded by a sponsor,” Park said. “I think the fact that that just happened at another Grand Slam tournament… potentially offers an alternative. [for Wimbledon].”

But Robson said athletes would have to stick to one bottle for the plan to be effective. “I was watching a lot of games in Paris and people had a lot of reusable bottles because you have your water, your energy drinks, your electrolytes and all kinds,” he said. “As soon as you put someone using five reusable bottles, it loses its power.”

Campaigners have criticized Wimbledon and Evian, which sponsors the competition, for providing players with single-use bottles. Hundreds of thousands of bottles are used in the tournament each year, with an estimated 420,000 distributed in 2019.

Maja Darlington, Greenpeace UK plastics campaigner, said: “Wimbledon is a world-renowned event. If they can afford to pay players £50,000 just for taking part in the first round, they can afford to provide them with reusable water bottles and ensure they don’t contribute to the growing plastic crisis.”

Robson said tennis has “a long way to go” to become environmentally friendly, but the introduction of reusable cups on court could be a “big change”.

“We also have players who are superstitious, you know, Rafael with his water bottles, and they all have to be in a certain line,” he said. “There are other players who prefer plastic bags around their rackets after a string. And he is slowly but surely changing the mindset.”

Nadal, winner of 22 Grand Slam titles, commented on his on-court routine, saying he takes “one sip from one bottle and then another. And then he placed the two bottles at my feet, in front of my chair to my left, one carefully behind the other, pointed diagonally at the court”.

He has previously been hit with a series of rapes for taking too long between points while performing his ritual, which also includes touching his underwear.

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Robson said there were broader issues with tennis’s environmental credentials: “We travel every week. Usually, on a plane, there are almost no opportunities to use other forms of transportation, and then you get to a big tournament like this. And you know, there’s a fleet of Land Rovers, which are lovely, but not necessarily that green.”

Park said the club was working with Evian on the possibility of installing water refilling stations on the pitch, and that spectators could bring reusable bottles to SW19. The club has previously said that Evian bottles are made from 100% recycled plastic.

On environmental goals, Park added: “There is progress that we need to track, we are actively talking with our partners about how we can improve and improve.”