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Djokovic, Navratilova, ATP & WTA Slam Wimbledon Organisers for Banning Russian, Belarusian Players

CC0 / Pixabay / Tennis ball
Tennis ball - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.04.2022
Ever since Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine on 24 February, the country's athletes have been isolated from global events. Earlier FIFA, UEFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) barred the Russian players from taking part in their respective competitions and on Wednesday, Wimbledon jumped on the bandwagon.
World Number 1 Novak Djokovic, American legend Martina Navratilova, the Association of Tennis Players (ATP) and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), have all slammed Wimbledon's decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from appearing in the prestigious tournament to be held on 27 June-10 July later this year in London.
The ATP labelled the ban as "unfair" and "discriminatory", and Djokovic dubbed the Grass Court Grand Slam's decision as "crazy".
The Serbian superstar declared that he denounced the Russian operation, but banning athletes from competing in an individual sport like tennis was simply "unfair".
"I will always condemn war. I will never support war being myself a child of war. 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," Djokovic, the reigning men's Wimbledon champion told reporters during a press conference in Belgrade.
"However, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good," he added.
Meanwhile, the ATP said that Wimbledon's unilateral decision to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in the grass court Grand Slam, was not just "discriminatory" but could set a "damaging" precedent as well.
"We believe that today's unilateral decision by Wimbledon and the LTA [the Lawn Tennis Association] 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," the ATP said in a statement.
"Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP Rankings," the organisation explained.
The WTA echoed similar sentiments, calling the decision was "neither fair nor justified".
"We are very disappointed. 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," women's tennis' administrative body posted on its website.
However, the most fierce backlash against the ban came from the legendary Martina Navratilova, who argued that Wimbledon's authorities were "destroying tennis" by mixing sports with politics.
The nine-time Wimbledon winner, who had to relinquish her Czech nationality before she took up US citizenship back in 1975, having experienced such isolation during the Cold War era, stated that "exclusion is not the way to go".
"As much as I feel for the Ukrainian players and Ukrainian people… I think this is just going further than [the AELTC] needed to be going, quite frankly. I think it's the wrong decision. It's unfair to the whole world. There's so much bad going on. I think this is not helpful," a distraught Navratilova said in an interview on America's LBC Radio.
"I understand the banning of teams, of course, but on an individual level, I just think it's wrong," she concluded.
On Wednesday, the All England Lawn Tennis Club's (AELTC), administrative body behind Wimbledon, stated that its move was to stop the Russian government from deriving "any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players".
"Given the profile of The Championships in the United Kingdom and around the world, it is our responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of Government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit Russia's global influence through the strongest means possible," a statement from the AELTC read.
"It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to Wimbledon," the AELTC added.
Men's World No 2 and reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev (Russia) and WTA No 4 Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus), are the two big names who would not be able to compete in the tournament.
Prior to Wimbledon's move, no tennis tournament had banned players on nationality grounds in the post-World War II era.
Before the Grand Slam’s shock announcement came about the ATP and WTA had asked the players to compete as neutral athletes, having disallowed the use of their respective national flags. But there was no ban on their participation in tournaments.
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