Wimbledon will ban all Russian & Belarusian players from this year’s Slam

About one week after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Russian man in these photos, Daniil Medvedev, became the #1 men’s player in the world. Daniil ended up losing the #1 ranking a few weeks later, but it was and is a big deal. Medvedev is the first man not named Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray to be ranked #1 since 2003. The tennis tour is international, obviously, and there are high-ranked players from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine in most tournament draws. Ukrainian players asked the ATP and WTA to make statements condemning Russia’s invasion, and they also asked for Russian and Belarussian players to lose their “flags,” meaning their identifying flags next to their names on all tournament and official websites and matches. The governing bodies agreed and that’s how it’s been for nearly two months as Russia commits war crimes and murders civilians in Ukraine. Now it looks like Wimbledon is going to do a lot more to Russian and Belarussian players: a complete ban from the tournament.

Wimbledon officials were set to announce they would bar Russian and Belarusian players from playing in this year’s tournament because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Belarus’ support of the war. The ban, which would make Wimbledon the first tennis event to restrict individual Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing, was confirmed by a highly placed international tennis official on Tuesday who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the All England Club, which organizes and hosts the tournament.

After the war began in February, professional tennis organizers were quick to bar the Russians and their Belarusian allies from team events like the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup, both of which were won by Russian teams in 2021. The sport’s seven governing bodies announced that ban collectively on March 1. And the men’s and women’s tour events in Moscow later this season were canceled, as well as a number of lower-tier events in Russia and Belarus. The International Tennis Federation also announced the suspension of the Russian Tennis Federation and Belarusian Tennis Federation from I.T.F. membership.

But Russian and Belarusian players have been permitted to continue competing on the professional tours as individuals albeit without any national identification. There are no longer flags or countries listed next to their names on scoreboards, in draws or in the published computer rankings.

[From The NY Times]

The Times points out that several Ukrainian players have asked for this, a total ban for Russians and Belarussians, but that tennis’s governing bodies have resisted, arguing that it would be incredibly unfair to blame Russian players (many of whom don’t even live or train in Russia) for the actions of their government. Several Russian players have even spoken out against the war, and I’m sure those players put themselves and their families (back in Russia) in danger for criticizing what has happened.

So, do I think that Russians and Belarussians should be banned from a Slam? I don’t, but I also understand that there needs to be a shake up and an acknowledgement that everything can’t be “business as usual.” I think this unfairly targets young men and women who are likely worried about retaliation from their own government. But I also think… well, at least it’s a bold step and maybe it will shake some things up.

Update: It’s official now, Wimbledon has made the statement on their site. All players from Russia and Belarus are banned from competing at Wimbledon this year. No talk on whether the UK will allow Russian and Belarusian players to play the other grass-court events in the lead up to Wimbledon, like the tournaments in Eastbourne and Queen’s Club.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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21 Responses to “Wimbledon will ban all Russian & Belarusian players from this year’s Slam”

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  1. hindulovegod says:

    I’m unsure about this. Many of these players left Russia in their teens and didn’t return. Azarenka lives in the States, Pavs and Medvedev are based in France. But on the other hand, they’ve all played for their countries of birth in the Olympics and other competitions. Maybe I’ll just be sad for Karatsev.

  2. Irene says:

    At least 2 men who have been accused of domestic violence will be able to compete.

    Chinese players can compete despite the kidnapping of a fellow tennis star and the horrific cleansing of muslims in the country.

    If all Russian players should have collective guilt then that should also be applied to every single player. Let’s see how many would be able to compete.

    Also this is just going to play into Putin’s hand. He does NOT give a fig about ordinary Russians. If he did he wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine.

    The next time the West illegally invades another county, Wimbledon had better ban the players from those countries.

    • Kimmie says:

      Let’s not forget the US government’s hands aren’t clean either. Punishing the players was a bit too much, but I do agree that something needs to be done to condemn Russia for their actions.

      • Tessa says:

        Something has been done, a lot of somethings have been done. This is quite meaningless in the grand scheme of things and comes across as vindictive yet useless grandstanding.

    • Meg says:

      Aside from the fact that whataboutism is essentially distasteful at the moment, the banning decision has some merit.

      If Russian athlete are allowed, then Russian athletes who would wear the Z symbol on their shirts (or socks, or whatever) would have to be allowed. Pass.

  3. TrixC says:

    I don’t know. I live in the UK and the anti-war (and by extension, anti-Russian) sentiment amongst the general public is very strong here. I think it would be a really unpleasant atmosphere were Medvedev to progress to the final stages of the tournament – or any of the other Russians, but particularly Medvedev given he’s already the player people love to hate. It would be a massive distraction from the actual tennis, so I think it’s probably the right decision. I personally think the business of forcing players to compete as neutrals is a bit of a meaningless gesture. And while individual players aren’t responsible for the actions of the Russian government, they are wealthy and influential citizens, and if such people feel the consequences of Putin’s behaviour perhaps that will help turn public sentiment against him.

    • Drea says:

      While I see your point – if it hasn’t worked with the oligarchy so far, how much do you think he cares about mere tennis players?

      Putin is not concerned with PR he can’t control (like the Russian state media)

  4. Amy Bee says:

    I don’t agree with this decision. Why blame the individual Players? But it’s Wimbledon so no surprise.

  5. Tessa says:

    What “things” will it “shake up”? Do we really think that Putin didn’t hesitate to kill people and condemn his entire country to being international pariahs with massive economic issues, but he will hesitate now because Russian tennis players got punished?

  6. Bettyrose says:

    It’s basically using cancel culture against Russia. I don’t know how effective that is. Putin clearly doesn’t care about his international image.

    • Fernanda says:

      Completely agree. And he doesn’t care at all about his own people, be it tennis players or whoever. This is a meaningless action that will only damage individual lives of people who dedicated their lives to this sport.

    • Noo says:

      @trixc that is a very interesting angle that this may not be totally altruistic on the part of Wimbledon. They may be trying to prevent the event itself from turning into a massive political statement and with that coverage dominating the tournament.

      For anyone who thinks sports don’t matter to Putin, I strongly disagree. Russian sports are a huge part of the Russian nationalist propaganda machine and have a huge degree of state intervention (as has been proven through multiple state sponsored doping investigations).

  7. mmcaav says:

    Doing this is really ironic considering most participants are from contries that have commited war crimes (the US, hello?) but specially the UK doing this while literally still invading a part of Ireland lmao

    • justwhy says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Hypocrisy stinks; sport as we know it will die if tourneys start holding players accountable for the very often heinous acts of their governments, over which they have no control and often oppose. Truth is, there aren’t many nations with clean hands. Wimby is only doing this because they feel they have to do something. But this move will only hurt the tournament’s reputation with the banned players and fans of the banned players, imo.

    • TrixC says:

      Umm, the UK isn’t “literally still invading a part of Ireland”. Northern Ireland is one of the four countries that make up the UK and has its own devolved government. Under the Good Friday Agreement the citizens of Northern Ireland could choose to reunify with the rest of Ireland, but at the moment the majority want to remain part of the UK. Maybe read up on the history before making ignorant comments.

  8. SAH says:

    This is where i do agree with this! Yes, innocent Russians who dont even live in Russia or agree with Putin are and will be punished. But thats what we need, we need have the masses suffer so they can rebel! Where are the rest of 150 million Russians and why aren’t they standing upto Putin? On the Daily Podcast they were talking about how the vast majority are believing Putin’s propaganda – fine, if they believe it or are too scared to stand up against it, then yes – there will be consequences – RussoPhobia – hit them where it hurts, their pockets – economically. So far the economy has survived but their own Bank chairperson has said that if nothing changes the economy will collapse in months – when will the local Russians who are innocent stand up and fight. Of course its easier said than done as an outsider, but the only way to stop Putin is from the inside. The people need to unite and get enough sway amongst the powerful to remove Putin themselves! No one is going to go to War with Russia to remove Putin. This will have to happen internally – and it only happens when the every day Russian is banned, cut off from goods, hurt economically – they will need to then fight against Putin otherwise they go back to era of the 80’s which no one wants – Oligarchs wont be able to take it – thus make the people suffer economically so they can remove Putin themselves.

  9. crushton says:

    This is the most effective way to bypass Russian propaganda: they can’t highlight Russian success stories around the world if there aren’t any stories to tell.

  10. Maple says:

    Should the American people have been made to suffer for their military’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, where an estimated 1 million were killed. The US is currently providing weapons and support to Saudi Arabia, helping them kill 400,000 Yemenis. What have Americans done about their war mongering murderous leaders. Not a damn thing.

  11. msd says:

    Mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, sporting success is used in Russia for pro-Putin propaganda purposes and this signals it isn’t business as usual – Russia is a pariah. On the other hand, it’s an individual sport and they aren’t technically playing for their country in Grand Slams. It’s more akin to banning Russian & Belarusian players from Premier League or NHL … which hasn’t happened. I’m not sure it alone will have an effect, not unless other sports follow suit; plus there’s a danger it simply plays into Putin’s narrative of Western persecution. Russians love to play the victim.

    It’s certainly interesting for tennis because Wimbledon has made the decision unilaterally. It’s not a government ban, nor a ban from tennis’ governing body. The WTA and ATP and ITF are all opposed to it. That sets quite a curious precedent in the world of Grand Slams. I don’t think Australia, France or the US will follow suit unless the war ramps up even more into using nukes/attacking a NATO country. So, why the UK? It sounds like it is a domestically popular decision but that shouldn’t really come into it. A bit perverse also when the UK has been the top country for laundering dirty Russian money, giving visas and citizenship for cash etc. Hmmm.