World number eight Andrey Rublev blasted Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players as “complete discrimination” on Thursday while Belarus officials said the decision will only “incite hatred” and threatened legal action to have the sanction overturned.
“The reasons they (Wimbledon) gave us had no sense, they were illogical,” said Rublev on the sidelines of the Belgrade ATP event.
“What is happening now is complete discrimination against us.”
Wimbledon on Wednesday banned all Russian and Belarusian players from taking part in this year’s Grand Slam event in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
The decision means Rublev as well as compatriot and world number two Daniil Medvedev and women’s fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus sit out the June 27-July 10 tournament.
“Banning Russian or Belarusian players….will not change anything,” added Rublev, who said redirecting Wimbledon’s prize fund, which last year totalled £35 million ($45.6 million), would have a more positive effect.
“To give all the prize money to humanitarian help, to the families who are suffering, to the kids who are suffering, I think that would do something.
“Tennis will, in that case, be the first and only sport who donates that amount of money and it will be Wimbledon so they will take all the glory.”
The Belarus Tennis Federation (BTF) accused UK government officials of “incompetence and ignorance”.
“The BTF categorically condemns the decision taken by the organisers of Wimbledon to suspend Belarusian and Russian tennis players,” they said in a strongly-worded statement.
“Such destructive actions in no way contribute to the resolution of conflicts, but only incite hatred and intolerance on a national basis.”
The body added: “At the moment, consultations of the BTF leadership with international law firms on sports law are ongoing and a strategy is being developed that is aimed at protecting, first of all, Belarusian tennis players around the world, and tennis in the Republic of Belarus as a whole.”
US tennis trailblazer Billie Jean King, a founder of the WTA in 1973, said she “cannot support” the Wimbledon decision.
“One of the guiding principles of the founding of the WTA was that any girl in the world, if she was good enough, would have a place to compete,” said the six-time Wimbledon champion.
“I stood by that in 1973 and I stand by that today. I cannot support the banning of individual athletes from any tournament, simply because of their nationality.”
Ukraine’s top female player Elina Svitolina said that Russian and Belarusian players who do speak out against the invasion “should be allowed” to compete at Wimbledon.
“We don’t want them banned completely,” former world number three Svitolina, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2019, told the BBC.
“If players don’t speak out against the Russian government then it is the right thing to ban them.”
“We just want them to speak up, if they are with us and the rest of the world or the Russian government. If they didn’t choose, they didn’t vote for this government, then it’s fair they should be allowed to play and compete.”
At the Dubai tournament in February, Rublev had scribbled “No war please” on a courtside TV camera after a victory.
At the moment, players representing Russia and Belarus are allowed to take part in ATP and WTA events but are barred from competing under the name or flag of their countries.
Their national teams have, however, been banned from the Davis Cup and BJK Cup competitions.
World number one Novak Djokovic hit out at the “crazy” decision by Wimbledon.
“The players, the tennis players, the athletes have nothing to do with it (war). When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good,” Djokovic had said Wednesday.
Djokovic’s semi-final opponent in Belgrade, Karen Khachanov of Russia said he was devastated to miss Wimbledon.
“I am just really sad, disappointed, devastated that these things are happening right now,” said then world number 26, who made the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2021.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), which runs Wimbledon, said it was acting to “limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible”.
But the ATP and WTA said the ban was “unfair” and “very disappointing”.