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How Wimbledon’s Russian ban plunged tennis into civil war

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In this file photo taken on July 06, 2021 Russia's Daniil Medvedev (R) reacts during a break in play against Poland's Hubert Hurkacz in their men's singles fourth round match on the eighth day of the 2021 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon - ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images
In this file photo taken on July 06, 2021 Russia’s Daniil Medvedev (R) reacts during a break in play against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz in their men’s singles fourth round match on the eighth day of the 2021 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon – ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Tennis has always been a uniquely atomised and dysfunctional sport but this was the day it descended into outright civil war.

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Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players sparked fury from the men’s and women’s tours, who labeled the move discriminatory and unfair, and leaves open the possibility of drawn-out and damaging legal battles.

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The first signals that this was going to be a tumultuous 24 hours for tennis actually came in the small hours of Wednesday morning, when news of the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s imminent announcement leaked out via a number of media organizations, including the New York Times . Telegraph Sport had previously predicted a swinging ban for Russians and Belarusians at the start of this month.

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A flustered AELTC was forced into bringing forward their announcement, with media duly being briefed early in the afternoon that executives had been influenced by the horror scenes in Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities.

But if they hoped that would draw the sting out of the controversy, they were sorely mistaken. When the official statement dropped at 3.30pm, responses flooded in – and few were complimentary.

“I feel like Ukraine would be better served if Wimbledon donated their entire profit in support aid instead of banning the Russian and Belarusian players,” said John Millman, the world No 80 from Australia. In Belgrade, Serbian world No 38 Miomir Kecmanovic declared: “Of course it’s wrong what’s happening, but I don’t think [Daniil] Medvedev, [Andrey] Rublev and the rest of the players are to blame. I don’t think it’s fair.”

Navratilova says ‘politics is destroying tennis’

Criticism from players well down the rankings is one thing, but barbs issued by the most successful player to ever pick up a racquet was quite another. That explains why Martina Navratilova’s interventiongiven to Andrew Marr on his early evening LBC Radio show, caused such shockwaves.

As Navratilova spoke of politics “destroying tennis”, leading club figures like chairman Ian Hewitt and chief executive Sally Bolton must have wondered whether anyone was going to come out in support.

Such support did eventually arrive, but only from the British Government, whose ministers sounded delighted by the ban. It was in mid-March, after all, that sports minister Nigel Huddleston first suggested making the likes of Medvedev sign anti-Putin declarations before allowing them to participate in Wimbledon.

Sensing they were running out of allies, the embattled AELTC will at least have been grateful to read the following comment from Global Athlete, which describes itself as an international athlete-led pressure body. “Banning Russian and Belarusian athletes will also protect these athletes who have no choice to remove themselves from competitions,” said Global Athlete. “These athletes must follow the orders from their countries’ leaders.”

Is legal action inevitable?

So what will happen next? It is possible that we could be thrown into a swirl of legal actions launched against the AELTC and the LTA, with the former Russian Davis Cup player Andrei Olhovskiy advocating a class action lawsuit. The LTA, in particular, might be twitchy over the prospect of defending their own ban given they cannot play the AELTC’s trump card of being a private members’ club in any possible defense.

The LTA are fortunate that there are no functioning players’ unions in tennis (despite Novak Djokovic’s ham-fisted attempts to create a new power base under the title of the Professional Tennis Players’ Association). In the absence of any such representation, the key antagonists are the ATP and WTA Tours, which both constitute a 50-50 partnership between players and tournaments. Both organizations expressed strong opposition to the ban.

“We believe that today’s unilateral decision by Wimbledon and the LTA to exclude players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s British grass-court swing is unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game,” said the ATP, in a statement arrived at 5pm. “Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP Rankings.”

Another potential area of ​​debate could revolve around rankings points. The ATP and WTA Tours have no authority over Wimbledon itself, or the AELTC. But they could – if relations continue to decline – withdraw their primary currency of rankings points from the tournament, thus effectively turning it into an exhibition event.

According to the ATP handbook, the LTA have just breached regulation 8.01B – “Each tournament agrees to accept entries of tennis players on the basis of the ATP Singles Rankings and the ATP Doubles Rankings” – and could thus be liable for a $250,000 fine and a change in their membership status. It is worth noting that there has never been a case like this before, but the ATP’s chief executive Andrea Gaudenzi will surely spy an opportunity to make his authority felt.

The WTA’s anger at the decision was laid bare in their own statement, made just before 7.30pm, that featured the word “discrimination” no fewer than five times. There were even suggestions last night that the term “racism” could be used to describe the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes, although most observers would agree that this is going too far.

While the opposition to the ban is widespread and powerful, it will be difficult for either the AELTC or the LTA to climb down now that they have set out their stall so clearly. Prepare for more fireworks ahead.



Source: sports.yahoo.com

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