Men’s tennis world number two Daniil Medvedev is set to be barred from this year’s Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament as The Times reported organisers are to ban Russian and Belarus players due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian and Belarusian players have been able to continue to compete in ATP and WTA events under a neutral flag since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
It was believed this would extend to the three remaining Grand Slam events — though the ITF banned both countries’ teams from the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup.
However, The Times says sources have told them that after almost two months of talks Wimbledon organisers prefer to ban the players rather than adhere to a compromise solution offered by the British government.
That would have seen the likes of Medvedev and last year’s Wimbledon women’s singles semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus sign statements that they would not make supportive comments of Russian President Vladimir Putin or the war.
Wimbledon organisers believe signing such statements could impact negatively on the families of the players.
The BBC reported that confirmation of the decision is to come later on Wednesday.
‘Stop the war’
The Kremlin reacted angrily to the reports deeming it “unacceptable”.
“Once again they simply turn athletes into hostages to political prejudice, political intrigues,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “This is unacceptable.”
“Taking into account that Russia is a very strong tennis country, our athletes are at the top of world rankings, the competition itself will suffer from their removal,” he added.
Marta Kotyuk, Ukraine’s world number 52, criticised the silence of her Russian and Belarusian rivals.
“In times of crisis, silence means agreeing with what is happening,” she wrote in a statement addressed to the ‘Tennis Community’ and published on her twitter account.
“The very silence of those who choose to remain that way right now is unbearable as it leads to the continuation of murder in our homeland.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal, and that time is now.”
The 19-year-old demands the WTA, ATP and ITF ask those players whether they support the invasion, the military activities in Ukraine and whether they are sympathetic to the Russian and Belarus regimes.
“If applicable, we demand to exclude and ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in any international event, as Wimbledon already done,” she wrote.
It is likely that this ban will apply to all British grass-court tournaments this summer.
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), which oversees key Wimbledon warm-up tournaments such as Queen’s and Eastbourne, said last week they would follow Wimbledon’s lead.
“We think from a public perspective and indeed a practical implementation perspective that there needs to be alignment (between the All England Club and LTA), so it is really clear and understood,” said LTA chief executive Scott Lloyd.
Russian and Belarus players have been muted in their condemnation of the war though men’s world number eight Andrey Rublev did scrawl ‘no war please’ on a TV camera when competing in Dubai just after the invasion took place.
Medvedev — presently recuperating after a hernia operation — restricted himself to saying “I want peace in all of the world.”
However, Russia’s top female player Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was more forthright.
“Stop the war, stop the violence,” she tweeted in March.
“I am not afraid to clearly state my position. I am against war and violence.”
Belarusian tennis star Victoria Azarenka, a former world number one and two-time Grand Slam title winner, was also outspoken.
“It is heartbreaking to see how many innocent people have been affected and continue to be affected by such violence,” the 32-year-old said in March.
“I have always seen and experienced Ukrainian and Belarusian people friendly and supportive of each other. It’s hard to witness the violent separation currently taking place.”
Belarus is seen as an ally of Russia and facilitated the invasion by allowing troops to cross over their border into Ukraine.