In April, Wimbledon announced that they were banning all Russian and Belarusian tennis players from competing in this year’s Championships. Their argument was that in the heightened political climate – given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – Russian and Belarusian athletes will be used as propaganda tools for the Russian state. Wimbledon also argued that they were trying to get ahead of (what they thought would be) the government’s inevitable crackdown of Russian and Belarusian citizens entering the UK.
Last week, the governing bodies of the men’s and women’s tours responded by taking away the points given to Wimbledon. As in, players earn certain points per round, and points determine player rankings. The ATP Tour and WTA Tour basically downgraded Wimbledon to an exhibition tournament with good prize money. Wimbledon issued a pissy statement about it and reiterated their reasoning for banning players by nationality. Neither side is happy. But at least the Telegraph is here to tell us the “real” reason why Wimbledon banned Russians and Belarusian players: to spare their patron, the Duchess of Cambridge, from having to interact with a Russian. WTF? (note: this Telegraph article is from April, but it’s being picked up widely this week for obvious reasons.)
Tennis is not simply a public relations opportunity for the Duchess, but a genuine passion, which is one of the reasons Wimbledon banned Russian and Belarusian players from this summer’s tournament. The prospect of embarrassing the All England Club’s patron – given her emotional investment in the sport – by asking her to hand the men’s singles trophy to Daniil Medvedev was simply too much to bear.
Wimbledon likes to pride itself as a tournament fit for royalty, and in Kate they have the monarchy’s most prized asset, whose endorsement is worth more than any of the many commercial deals the club has struck with sponsors.
It helps that Kate’s love of the sport is genuine, and predates her royal credentials. Even in the early years of her courtship with Prince William, paparazzi snapped her on tennis courts, and she once revealed in a BBC documentary marking 90 years of coverage at Wimbledon, that her “first memories” of the tournament were of being “really taken by [Andre] Agassi and [Pete] Sampras, [Goran] Ivanisevic and Steffi Graf”.
After her marriage to Prince William she accepted an honorary membership at west London’s Queen’s Club, had a tennis court built at the family’s Anmer Hall residence and reportedly employed the expertise of eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer – who attended her sister Pippa’s wedding – to give Prince George a tennis lesson.
“As a younger and senior royal she is a huge asset to the AELTC,” said Nigel Currie, a PR and sponsorship consultant for NC Partnership. “She is undoubtedly one of the best known and most recognisable women in the world and her popularity and position provide extra status and prestige to an already huge global tournament. It all adds significantly to the Wimbledon brand and takes the event beyond tennis. The comparable event in golf, The Masters does not have this same endorsement, and relies on past legends of the game which appeals to the golf market but not necessarily any wider market outside the game of golf.”
Kate neither has nor seeks any say in how Wimbledon is run, but even the merest possibility that she could be seen as endorsing the Russian regime was enough for the club’s chiefs to take the nuclear option and ban some of the world’s leading players. Ultimately, the club has decided that keeping strong relations with the Duchess – and future Queen – is more important than any short-term hits they sustain from banning Medvedev and his compatriots.
The problem with this is that there’s the implicit assumption that by the mere act of “handing the trophy to the winner,” Kate is endorsing every single one of the player’s beliefs and the politics of the player’s home country. She handed the trophy to Novak Djokovic last year, are you saying that Kate endorses Novak’s anti-vaccine stance and his cozy relationship with the current Serbian government? That’s exactly what they’re saying! Maybe the better tact would be to argue that Kate will hand the trophy to the winner regardless of politics, because Kate – the future Queen, mind you – is supposed to be above politics? Because this is a sh-tty f–king argument, it’s just mindless Keen embiggening. I genuinely hope that Wimbledon has a better argument than this for banning two nationalities from playing.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.