I have gone back and forth on whether the AELTC made the right decision. But after many conversations with people on both ends of this political argument, because it is political, I have come to a conclusion. The club made the wrong decision.
On Monday, the world’s oldest and arguably the most prestigious tennis tournament kicks off with a ban on Russian and Belarusian players, a move criticized by the men’s ATP and women’s WTA, which are stripping the tournament of its points in response. classification.
The last time Wimbledon banned players from certain countries was after World War II, when it targeted German and Japanese athletes. Now, more than seven decades later, the tournament is once again at a crossroads between sport and politics.
While the AELTC’s decision in 2022 is well-intentioned, it has become increasingly clear that it is not the right one. The club’s official statement on the sanction, released in April, reads in part: “We share the universal condemnation of Russia’s illegal actions and have carefully considered the situation in the context of our duties to the players, our community and the public. usually”. UK public as a British sporting institution. We have also taken into account guidance set out by the UK government specifically in relation to sporting bodies and events.”
Let’s analyze this a bit: first of all, the “universal condemnation”. Many of us in the world agree that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are illegal, though not all, as seen in recent UN General Assembly votes calling for an end to the war. It should be noted that not all countries agreed.
The club then mentions its “duties to the players, to our community and to the wider UK public as a British sporting institution.” I am intrigued by this part of the statement on many levels. How is Wimbledon duties to players different from other professional tennis tournaments around the world? Yes, we all know that Wimbledon is unique, it is special, and don’t you like to remind us of that point?
Without a doubt, Wimbledon is extremely prestigious. It is one of four Grand Slams played every year, except during world wars and pandemics. But honestly, for the players, it’s another tournament.
And what about Wimbledon’s duties to the community and the general public? All other professional tennis tournaments that have been held around the world also have a similar duty, one would think, especially the big events in Europe in recent months. None of these events, including the French Open, another of the four “majors” of tennis and the Italian Open in Rome, have had problems related to this war or to individual players from Russia and Belarus in particular.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF), the world’s governing body for tennis, oversees Olympic tennis competition, as well as organizing annual team competitions by country. Like most other major sports, it has appropriately banned all Russian and Belarusian teams from international competitions.
But the AELTC decision penalizes individual athletes in a way that is not done in other tournaments. Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, the top two Russian men’s players, have missed out on competing at Wimbledon as top 10 players. In fact, Medvedev is currently the highest ranked male player in the world.
And Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus is currently the sixth-ranked player in the world and reached the Wimbledon semifinal last year.
It’s not just top players, but many other professionals who have missed out on Wimbledon this year, and possibly for years to come. Is that really fair?
It is well known that Russian President Vladimir Putin likes to use success in the sports world to amplify his political influence and highlight Russia’s superiority. The All England club’s statement addresses this issue, saying “it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefit from the participation of Russian or Belarusian players in The Championships.” And in this case, the AELTC sees even the prospect of a Russian or Belarusian holding up a trophy on Center Court at Wimbledon as too horrifying to entertain.
The AELTC emphasizes its own unique profile on the world sporting stage and its special position to “limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest possible means”. And it is certainly clear that various governments, corporate entities and creative institutions are trying to strike the right balance by doing the same. However, in this particular case, the club tipped the scales in the wrong direction.
In two of the men’s grass events leading up to Wimbledon, Medvedev reached back-to-back finals, one in the Netherlands and one in Germany. There were no protests, no interruptions, even with the participation and success of a player like Medvedev.
Yes, Wimbledon is bigger, more global and more prestigious than those events. But it seems increasingly unlikely to me, given what we’ve seen at other sporting events around the world, that if Wimbledon allowed Russian and Belarusian players to compete, it would face problems it couldn’t handle.
More often than not, Wimbledon has been at the forefront of almost everything it has done to promote the game and its event. This time, however, he has committed a double fault.