Paris – WTA president Steve Simon warned Wimbledon that it faces “strong reactions” to the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players, and the week ahead could see more twists in a controversy that has split tennis.
The All England Club (AELTC) said it decided to bar players such as Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
The body will hold its annual Wimbledon event launch on Tuesday, and the saga will dominate the agenda.
ATP and WTA officials are expected to meet on the sidelines of the Madrid Open next week to discuss their response to the crisis.
As the Grand Slam tournaments are autonomous, possible sanctions by the ATP and the WTA could include a refusal to award ranking points from Wimbledon, which is scheduled to take place from June 27 to July 10.
That could reduce Wimbledon to a high-profile exhibition event.
The ATP does not seem inclined to take legal action, while according to French daily L’Equipe, which obtained an email sent by the WTA to its players, the body is studying “the actions that you (the players) could take according to the Grand Slam regulations.”
“I do think that you’ll see some strong reactions that will come from us but what those are and how far they’ll go is still to be determined,” Simon told The Tennis Podcast over the weekend.
“We don’t have the same jurisdiction over the Grand Slams as we do over our own sanctioned events.”
There are three potential avenues of action, according to Tatiana Vassine, a lawyer in sports law.
They lie in discrimination based on nationality, an attack on the freedom to work and the right to equal treatment.
“It’s a measure which it seems applies only to tennis players — other professionals of Russian and Belarusian nationality are able to continue their professional activity on English soil,” she said.
However, she believes that Wimbledon is only at the “declaration of intent” stage.
“We must not underestimate the ‘soft power’ of sport,” she said.
The ATP and WTA have already described the ban as “unfair” and “very disappointing.”
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic said it was “crazy,” Rublev blasted the move as “complete discrimination” while the Belarus Tennis Federation believes the ban will “incite hatred.”
Wimbledon also faces the charge of double standards.
The tournament excluded German and Japanese players for several years after World War II, while South African players were allowed to play during the apartheid era.
“People take the position that sports and politics shouldn’t match and shouldn’t be intertwined, but that’s not the reality,” Simon added.
“At times sports does cross into politics and here is a situation where politics is crossing into sports. It is real life.
“The one thing that this sport has always agreed upon was that entry into our events has always been based upon merit and without discrimination.”
Rublev, who famously scribbled “No war please” on a TV camera lens at a tournament in Dubai tournament in February, suggested a more positive way forward for Wimbledon — donate prize money which last year totaled £35 million ($45.6 million).
“Banning Russian or Belarusian players … will not change anything,” said the 24-year-old, who is No. 8 in the world rankings.
“To give all the prize money to humanitarian help, to the families who are suffering, to the kids who are suffering, I think that would do something.
“It will be Wimbledon who take all the glory.”
At the moment, players representing Russia and Belarus are allowed to take part in ATP and WTA events but are barred from competing under the name or flag of their countries.
Their national teams have, however, been banished from the Davis Cup and BJK Cup competitions.
Some Ukraine players have not been convinced by opposition to the Wimbledon ban.
“That man is not interested in what is happening in his own country,” tweeted Lesia Tsurenko, a former top 25 player, in response to Rublev’s accusations of discrimination.
“He also is not interested in what is happening in the neighboring country. What an abyss between our states and people, that I have not noticed for so long! I so regret it. I was blind.”
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