Royal Family at centre of Wimbledon's shock ban on Russian players
Fears about how it would look to parade a Russian or Belarusian winner alongside the Royal Family are reportedly behind Wimbledon's stunning decision to ban players from those countries.
The All England Club (AELTC) confirmed the staggering news on Wednesday that players from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to play at Wimbledon in June because of Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
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The move is the first time players have been banned on the grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War II era when German and Japanese players were excluded.
It means the likes of men's World No.2 Daniil Medvedev (from Russia), and women's fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka (from Belarus), will be banned from the June 27-July 10 tournament.
In a statement on Wednesday, the AELTC said it had to play its part in the efforts of government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to "limit Russia's global influence through the strongest means possible."
"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," AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt said in the statement.
However a bombshell report from the UK Telegraph has claimed the AELTC is worried about how it would look to parade a Russian or Belarusian winner alongside the Royal Family.
"It is understood that the optics of a potential trophy presentation on Centre Court has been high on decision-makers’ minds," reports Jeremy Wilson.
"The presentation often involves members of the Royal family and this year is also the centenary anniversary of the Centre Court."
The Duchess of Cambridge is the royal patron of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club and was on hand to present the trophy to Novak Djokovic last year.
Outrage over Wimbledon's ban on Russians and Belarusians
Players have also been banned from the UK grass-court tournaments set to be held in the build-up to Wimbledon.
The ATP, which governs men's tennis, said the "unilateral decision" by Wimbledon to exclude players from Russia and Belarus was "unfair" and could potentially set a damaging precedent for the game.
"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 men's governing body said.
"Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our board and member councils."
The Women's Tennis Association said it was "very disappointed" with the decision and was now "evaluating its next steps and what actions may be taken regarding these decisions".
"Individual athletes should not be penalised or prevented from competing due to where they are from, or the decisions made by the governments of their countries," said the WTA.
"Discrimination, and the decision to focus such discrimination against athletes competing on their own as individuals, is neither fair nor justified."
Both tennis governing bodies have banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions, but allowed players from the two countries to continue competing on their respective tours under neutrals flags.
Martina Navratilova, who won Wimbledon a record nine times between 1978 and 1990, called the move "the wrong decision".
"Exclusion like this, through no fault of these players, is not the way to go," she told LBC Radio.
"Tennis is such a democratic sport it is difficult when you see politics destroy it. On the women's side practically 10% of the field is not allowed to play.
"This decision was made in a vacuum by the All England Club. I understand their predicament but I just don't think they're seeing the big picture in a more global way. But I am devastated by the decision, quite frankly."
Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpischev told the country's Sport Express newspaper that there was nothing it could do.
"I think this decision is wrong but there is nothing we can change," Tarpischev said. "The (Russian) Tennis Federation has already done everything it could."
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