Wimbledon has made the “most responsible decision possible” by banning Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament, according to All England Club (AELTC) chairman Ian Hewitt.
The AELTC, which organises the Grand Slam, and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), have announced that Russian and Belarusian players will not be permitted to play in the UK this summer following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The move has been criticised by the ATP Tour and the WTA Tour, where men and women are still allowed to compete under neutral flags.
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There are four Russian men in the top 30 of the ATP rankings, including world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and world No. 8 Andrey Rublev, and six Russian and Belarusian players in the top 32 of the WTA rankings, including world No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka.
Speaking at Wimbledon’s spring media briefing, Hewitt said: “At the outset, we believe this is an extreme and exceptional situation that takes us far beyond the interests of tennis alone.
“Russia’s ongoing invasion, leading to catastrophic harm for millions of lives in Ukraine, has been condemned worldwide by over 140 nations, government, industry, sport and creative institutions are all playing their part in efforts to limit Russia’s global influence, including any benefit from trade, cultural or sporting shows of strength.
“As part of that response, the UK government has set up directive guidance for sporting bodies and events in the UK with the specific aim of limiting Russia’s influence. We have taken that directive guidance into account as we must as a high-profile event and leading British institution.
“For clarity, the guidance does not allow for automatic entry to Wimbledon based on rankings alone. We have considered at length the options available within the scope of this clear government position. There are in effect two options: declining entries or allowing entries but only with specific written declarations from individual players.
“We considered a wide variety of factors, including player safety, humanitarian efforts to support in the conflict, and the response of other sports in seeking to limit Russia’s influence. After lengthy and careful consideration we came to two firm conclusions that have formed the basis for our decision; first, even if we were to accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players with written declarations, we would risk their success of participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime, which we could not accept.
“Second, we have a duty to ensure that no actions we take should put the safeties of players or their families at risk.
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“We understand and deeply regret the impact this decision will have on every individual affected and so many innocent people are suffering as a result of this terrible war. But bound to act we believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances and within the framework of the government’s position there is no viable alternative to the decision we have taken in this truly exceptional and tragic situation.”
Hewitt also confirmed that players will not need to be vaccinated to play at Wimbledon, which means world No. 1 Novak Djokovic will be permitted to defend his title.
"I will always be the first one to condemn the war. As a child of war, I know what kind of emotional trauma a war leaves. Us in Serbia, we know what was happening here in 1999. Ordinary people always suffer – we've had lots of wars in the Balkans.
“That being said, I cannot support the Wimbledon decision, I think it's crazy. It's not the athletes' fault. When politics interfere with sport, it usually doesn't turn out well."
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