Novak Djokovic, Martina Navratilova decry Wimbledon ban of Russian, Belarusian players

Placeholder while article actions load

Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 tennis player, condemned Wimbledon’s decision to bar Russian and Belarusian players from the tournament as “crazy,” while Martina Navratilova, one of Wimbledon’s greatest champions, called the decision shortsighted.

“I will always condemn the war. I will never support war being myself a child of war, ”Djokovic, who is Serbian, told reporters at the Serbia Open in Belgrade (via Reuters).

“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.”

Navratilova, who won nine of her 18 Grand Slam singles titles on the Wimbledon grass, criticized the decision by the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

“Exclusion like this, through no fault of these players, is not the way to go… I think it’s the wrong decision,” she told LBC radio. “Tennis is such a democratic sport. It is difficult when you see politics destroy it. And as much as I feel for the Ukrainian players and the Ukrainian people – it’s just horrific what’s going on – I think this is just going further than needed. “

Navratilova added that she hoped the decision was “only a one-off and won’t escalate any further.”

“This decision was made in a vacuum by the All England Club I don’t think they are seeing the big picture in a more global way.”

The 65-year-old Navratilova reminded listeners that she had to leave Czechoslovakia as a rising player because of politics.

The Russian and Belarusian players, some have even expressed, vocalized, their opposition to the war. The only option therefore now for them to play would be to leave their country.

“That’s something I had to do in 1975, because of a totalitarian regime and now we are asking them to do the same, because of politics, because of optics. I understand the banning of teams, of course, representing the countries, but on an individual level, I just think it’s wrong. “

The club’s decision, announced Wednesday, to ban players on the basis of nationality had not been done since German and Japanese players were barred shortly after World War II. It was quickly criticized by both the Association of Tennis Professionals and the Women’s Tennis Association.

Jenkins: Wimbledon’s ban on Russian players was exactly right

Facing the possibility of legal challenges, the AELTC said it would “consider and respond accordingly” if circumstances change before the tournament begins on June 27. The French Open, which takes place next month, has not banned players, and the US Tennis Association has not indicated a stance on the US Open, which begins Aug. 29.

The move affects a handful of players, none more prominent than Daniil Medvedev, the 26-year-old Russian who lost last year in Wimbledon’s fourth round and was the second choice in betting markets to win this year’s event. Medvedev, ranked second in the world, won the 2021 US Open and was a finalist in the Australian Open in 2021 and 2022. Russia’s Andrey Rublev, 24, is ranked eighth in the world.

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the world’s fourth-ranked women’s player, was a Wimbledon and US Open semifinalist last year. Others affected include Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the world’s 15th-ranked women’s player, who has called for an end to the war, and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. Azarenka, who is ranked 18th and is a former world No. 1, has won two Australian Opens.

Elina Svitolina, a Ukrainian player ranked 20th in the world, pledged to donate her winnings in last month’s Monterrey Open to the Ukrainian army, and supports allowing athletes who are against the invasion to play.

“We don’t want them banned completely. If players don’t speak out against the Russian government, then it’s the right thing to do, “she told the BBC’s Radio Five Live Breakfast. “We just want them to speak up, if they are with us and the rest of the world or the Russian government. This is for me the main point.

“If they didn’t choose, they didn’t vote for this government, then it’s fair they should be allowed to play and compete.”

In a message on TwitterSvitolina called on Russian and Belarusian players to answer three questions to be allowed to play, saying “silence is betrayal.”

We demand that the WTA, ATP and ITF make sure that players who represent Russia and Belarus answer the following questions:

“1. Do you support Russia’s and Belarus invasion in Ukraine’s territory and as a result of that the war started by those countries?

“2. Do you support Russia’s and Belarus military activities in Ukraine?

“3. Do you support [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s and [Belarus President Aleksandr] Lukashenko’s regime? ”

The ATP, WTA and International Tennis Federation have previously barred athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing in team events and suspended tournaments scheduled to be held in Russia. However, athletes were allowed to compete as neutral with their country and flag removed, similar to the organizations’ lists of world rankings.

Despite calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “reprehensible,” the ATP called Wimbledon’s decision “unfair” and said it “has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game.” The organization also said it would review what steps it could take to reverse the decision.

The WTA expressed disappointment in the decision, saying, “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.”

Leave a Comment