Djokovic joins ATP and WTA in criticising Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarusian players

Grasscourt Grand Slam made the announcement on Wednesday in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine

Novak Djokovic described Wimbledon's decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players as 'crazy'. AFP
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Novak Djokovic has joined the ATP and WTA in criticising Wimbledon's decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from the tournament in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Wimbledon announced on Wednesday that it had barred all Russian and Belarusian players from this year's championships due to the invasion, which Russia calls a "special operation".

The prestigious grasscourt Grand Slam is the first tennis event to ban individual competitors from the two countries, meaning men's world No 2 Daniil Medvedev and eighth-ranked Andrey Rublev from Russia, and women's world No 4 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will be banned from the June 27-July 10 tournament.

Djokovic, who grew up in war-torn Serbia, said the athletes had nothing to do with the ongoing conflict.

"I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war," Djokovic said at the Serbia Open, an ATP 250 event in Belgrade, where he advanced past compatriot Laslo Dere 2-6, 7-6, 7-6 to reach the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

"I know how much emotional trauma it leaves. In Serbia we all know what happened in 1999. In the Balkans we have had many wars in recent history.

"However, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good."

The All England Lawn Tennis Club's (AELTC) decision has also been criticised by the ATP and WTA tours.

"We strongly condemn Russia’s reprehensible invasion of Ukraine and stand in solidarity with the millions of innocent people affected by the ongoing war," the ATP said in a statement released on Wednesday.

Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev will be among the Russian players banned from competing at Wimbledon this year. AP

"Our sport is proud to operate on the fundamental principles of merit and fairness, where players compete as individuals to earn their place in tournaments based on the ATP Rankings. We believe that today’s unilateral decision by Wimbledon and the LTA to exclude players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s British grass-court swing is unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game.

"Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP Rankings. Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our Board and Member councils.

"It is important to stress that players from Russia and Belarus will continue to be allowed to compete at ATP events under a neutral flag, a position that has until now been shared across professional tennis. In parallel, we will continue our joint humanitarian support for Ukraine under Tennis Plays for Peace."

The WTA echoed the ATP's sentiments with their own statement on Wednesday, which read: "The WTA strongly condemns the actions that have been taken by Russia and its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. We continue our humanitarian relief efforts to support Ukraine through Tennis Plays for Peace.

Women's world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka will also not compete at Wimbledon this summer. AFP

"We are, however, very disappointed in today’s announcement by the AELTC and the LTA to ban individual athletes who are from Russia and Belarus from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events.  A fundamental principal of the WTA is that individual athletes may participate in professional tennis events based on merit and without any form of discrimination. That principle is expressly set forth in our rules and has been agreed to by both AELTC and LTA.  Prohibitions against discrimination are also clearly expressed in their own rules and the Grand Slam rules.

"As the WTA has consistently stated, individual athletes should not be penalised or prevented from competing due to where they are from, or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.  Discrimination, and the decision to focus such discrimination against athletes competing on their own as individuals, is neither fair nor justified.  

"The WTA will continue to apply its rules to reject discrimination and ensure that all athletes are able to compete at our Tour events should they qualify to do so, a position that until today’s announcement has been shared across professional tennis. The WTA will be evaluating its next steps and what actions may be taken regarding these decisions."

The move is the first time players have been banned on the grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War Two era when German and Japanese players were excluded.

The AELTC said it would "consider and respond accordingly" if circumstances change between now and June.

Updated: April 21, 2022, 5:39 AM
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