Wimbledon chiefs have denied the decision to decline the entries of Russian and Belarusian players to the championships this year in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was an act of discrimination, a charge made against the All England Club by both the WTA and ATP tours.
“It is not discrimination in the form that is being said,” said Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, after being asked repeatedly about the statements from the other governing bodies in the wake of the ban. “It is a considered view reached as to what is the right and responsible decision in all circumstances.”
While there will be no Russian or Belarusian players, Novak Djokovic will officially be able to defend his title at Wimbledon after the AELTC confirmed that mandatory vaccination will not be a feature of the championships this year.
At the annual spring press briefing at the All England Club, normally an uneventful outlining of changes for the upcoming Wimbledon tournament, Hewitt and Sally Bolton, the AELTC chief executive, were tasked with explaining their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players. They said they had no choice but to come to what was “an extremely difficult decision and painful decision”.
According to the AELTC, their decision rested on limiting Russia’s global influence and they opted to work within the government guidance provided to them. “The UK government has set out directional guidance for sporting bodies and events in the UK, with the specific aim of limiting Russia’s influence,” Hewitt said.
“We have taken that directional guidance into account, as we must as a high-profile event and leading British institution.”
In addition to the ban on players, Wimbledon will not accept accreditation requests from Russian media. Discussions continue between the AELTC and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about whether Russian coaches and other support staff will be allowed to accompany foreign players at Wimbledon. Fans from Russia will be allowed to attend.
Wimbledon’s decision has been criticized from various directions. The WTA and ATP, which have opted to allow Russian and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes at their events, are expected to hold meetings at the Madrid Open this week as they decide on their next steps. The tours could theoretically opt for the radical response of withholding ranking points for this year’s Wimbledon.
According to Bolton, Wimbledon consulted the other tennis governing bodies and players at length, but they accept not everyone is happy. “We would simply say we can well understand that opinions differ and we’re communicating regularly with the WTA and the ATP and we will try and get our reasons across,” Hewitt said. “We think they understand what a challenging position we’re in. And this is an ongoing communication.”
Some have accused the AELTC of hypocrisy, pointing to Wimbledon’s inaction in response to other humanitarian and political crises. Their partnership with the Chinese phone company, Oppo, has been highlighted in light of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs and the WTA’s continued concerns about the wellbeing of Peng Shuai. Hewitt responded by referring to the invasion of Ukraine as an “exceptional situation”.
“For my part, there are at least three reasons. First, we have an invasion of a sovereign state with the scale and severity that it has. We have a condemnation by over 140 nations through the United Nations. And in our case, we have specific and directive guidance to address matters. So those factors make it a very, very exceptional situation,” he said.
The AELTC was also questioned about Mervyn Davies, the chairman of the LTA, tennis’s national governing body, and a member of the House of Lords, who refused to remove himself as chairman of the investment firm, LetterOne, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine . The firm was founded by the Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman and previously boasted other oligarchs as shareholders. Hewitt said Davies is welcome at Wimbledon. “Our decision is in relation to players only and their participation in Wimbledon and how that is presented. It’s only in relation to the players,” he said.
Meanwhile, the AELTC confirmed there will be no mandatory vaccination for arrivals at Wimbledon this year, in line with the current British entry policy. A year after players were required to stay at a designated hotel and only allowed to move to and from the tournament, there will be no notable Covid restrictions at the championships this year, with players able to return to renting nearby houses and walking to the site .
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism