New details have emerged about Wimbledon's decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players, with officials reportedly fearful that Vladimir Putin's regime could use photos of a potential Russian winner alongside the Royal Family as 'propaganda'.
Wimbledon made the staggering call on Wednesday to ban all players from Russia and Belarus from the grass-court grand slam in June, saying it had to play its part in the efforts to "limit Russia's global influence through the strongest means possible."
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"We recognise that this is hard on the individuals affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime," All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt said in a statement.
The UK Telegraph earlier reported that officials were worried about the 'optics' of having a member of the Royal Family present the trophy to a Russian or Belarusian player.
Men's World No.2 Daniil Medvedev would have been among the favourites to lift the trophy, while Belarus also boasts women's stars like Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka.
The Duchess of Cambridge is the royal patron of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club and is expected to present the trophy to the winners in 2022.
She has done so a number of times previously, including when Ash Barty won the grand slam event in 2021.
According to The Times, Wimbledon officials were fearful that the photos of a Russian or Belarusian winner alongside the Duchess of Cambridge could be used as a propaganda tool by Putin.
The publication quoted a government source that there were fears the trophy presentation could have been a “sports-washing victory for Russia" and "embarrassing" for Catherine.
Wimbledon feared Kate would be used as Putin propaganda if it didn’t ban Russian playershttps://t.co/sEpKecA0PX
— Martyn Ziegler (@martynziegler) April 21, 2022
— Telegraph Sport (@TelegraphSport) April 21, 2022
In other news, apparently Wimbledon's ban on Russian and Belarusian players was motivated by the need to avoid the risk of Kate Middleton handing over the trophy to Daniil Medvedev because that would have been embarrassing for her.
You can read that nonsense again. pic.twitter.com/q7n6KsQamV
— Khaya Sithole (@CoruscaKhaya) April 21, 2022
Belarus tennis seeks legal advice over Wimbledon ban
Meanwhile, the Belarusian Tennis Federation is seeking legal advice over Wimbledon's ban on players from the country, while the WTA is threatening "strong reactions" over the decision.
The backlash against the controversial decision gathered pace on Friday.
Russian star Andrey Rublev said there was no logic to the decision, while all-time great Billie Jean King said there was no way she could support the ban, which has also been condemned by the men's and women's tours.
The Belarus Tennis Federation said in a statement it categorically condemned the decision, adding: "Such destructive actions in no way contribute to the resolution of conflicts, but only incite hatred and intolerance on a national basis.
"Obviously, the reason for such a tough decision was the direct pressure of the British Government.
"For example, the statements of the Minister of Sports Nigel Huddleston about the need to allow Belarusian and Russian tennis players to participate in the tournament only after signing a special declaration condemning the special operation and providing guarantees that the athletes do not support the current power in their countries and do not receive public funding.
"Such statements speak of the incompetence and ignorance of the UK officials of the state system of sports support in Belarus and Russia.
"The BTF is taking all possible steps to level the current situation and assures that it will continue to defend the rights of Belarusian tennis players to participate in international tournaments."
Speaking after beating Jiri Lehecka at the Serbian Open, Rublev told reporters: "There is no meaning, not even logic what they proposed."
It had previously been suggested Russian and Belarusian players could be allowed to play if they denounced the invasion of Ukraine, and Rublev added: "I understand if they ban us and at least it would make half a per cent of change but it's not going to do anything.
"I was trying to explain that maybe if we want really to help - because the thing that happens now is completely discrimination of us, and this is not I think what the England government is proposing.
"If there's a statement that we need to sign, and on top of that to give all the prize money to humanitarian help, to the families who are suffering, to the kids who are suffering, I think that move at least will do something."
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