Tennis has recently gained some experience with controversial debates: In January and February, it was primarily about Novak Djokovic’s lack of evidence of vaccination, which therefore had to leave Australia and was excluded from the tournament in Melbourne. The result was weeks of discussions about what gradually became so far-reaching that it came to the familiar question of how sport and politics should be mixed. And it is precisely this question that is at stake again, following the decision of the All England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon, which bans athletes from Russia and Belarus from participating in the tournament in the summer.
One of the clearest reactions to the decision came from Djokovic. He called the Wimbledon organizers’ approach “crazy”. The Serb could back up his strong opinion with personal impressions: Djokovic spoke of himself as a “child of war” and therefore aware of the “emotional trauma that can trigger it”. Djokovic says: “During the war, and we have had many wars here in the Balkans, it is always the ordinary people who suffer.” He therefore could not support the Wimbledon decision.
So the six-time winner on Church Road sided with the players affected by the harsh measure that war is not their fault. The world associations ATP and WTA did the same, saying in statements that the exclusion was “discriminatory” and “deeply disappointing”. Russia’s war of aggression should be condemned “in the strongest terms”, but it does not justify this general measure, which goes beyond the previous interventions of the world federations: Both ATP and WTA had previously allowed athletes from Russia and Belarus to fly under a neutral flag to play.
From the point of view of Ukrainian athletes, the move is justified
Wimbledon justified its decision by saying that it was “unacceptable” for the Russian regime to take advantage of the participation of its athletes. The traditional club from the London suburbs uses its special position in tennis with the rules: The other three Grand Slam tournaments in Melbourne, Paris and New York City are organized by the players’ associations, while the tournament in Wimbledon is organized by a private organization. It can therefore make such decisions.
However, the decision was positively received by the Ukrainian athletes. Top-ranked players Elina Switolina and Marta Kostjuk as well as ex-player Sergej Stachowski, who is currently stationed in Ukraine as a soldier, called for imitation. From their point of view, the exclusion is justified – and not enough: “We demand that Russian and Belarusian athletes be excluded from participating in any international event,” they wrote. The majority of Russian players have only spoken vaguely about the war, but their silence means “support for what is happening”.
Meanwhile, Russian player Darja Kassatkina – world number 26 – clearly positioned himself. responded with understanding to the exclusion. “There are bigger things happening in the world right now. People’s lives are the most important thing,” the 24-year-old said Thursday after his knockout round in Stuttgart. Russian world number one Andrei Rublew sharply criticized the decision. “The reasons they gave us did not make sense, they did not make sense,” he said. “What is happening now is complete discrimination against us.”
Among the active professionals, there were still few reactions to the very big questions about sports and politics, which the decision at Wimbledon makes a topic again: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal did not position themselves the day after the announcement. Instead, former players like Martina Navratilova reported. “Tennis is such a democratic sport. It’s hard to see how politics destroys it,” the Czech said in a radio interview with LBC: “As much as I feel for the Ukrainians – it goes further than it should.”