WTA boss' powerful move after Wimbledon's unpopular Russia ban

Pictured left is Russian tennis star Daniil Medvedev and and Belarusian star Victoria Azarenka on the right.
Russian and Belarusian players such as Daniil Medvedev and Victoria Azarenka (pictured) are banned from playing in the 2022 Wimbledon grand slam tournament. Pic: Getty

The president of the governing body of women's tennis has warned Wimbledon officials that their controversial Russia ban could have serious ramifications.

The All England Club (AELTC) said they had decided to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year's grand slam tournament in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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The hugely unpopular moves means the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka will all be excluded from playing in one of the biggest events on the tennis calendar.

Wimbledon's contentious call has faced major backlash from current and former players, commentators and the governing bodies of men's and women's tennis - the ATP and WTA respectively.

WTA president Steve Simon has now warned Wimbledon organisers that they face "strong reactions" to the ban, with more twists expected in the coming days around the controversy that has split tennis.

On Tuesday, the AELTC will hold its annual Wimbledon event launch where the saga will dominate the agenda.

Meanwhile, ATP and WTA officials are expected to meet on the sidelines of the Madrid Open from next week to discuss their response to the crisis.

As the Grand Slam tournaments are autonomous, possible sanctions by the ATP and the WTA could include a refusal to award ranking points at the June 27-July 10 Grand Slam tournament.

That could reduce Wimbledon to the status of a high-profile exhibition event.

The ATP does not seem inclined to take legal action, while according to French daily L'Equipe, which obtained an email sent by the WTA to its players, the body is studying "the actions that you (the players) could take according to the Grand Slam regulations".

"I do think that you'll see some strong reactions that will come from us but what those are and how far they'll go is still to be determined," Simon told The Tennis Podcast at the weekend.

"We don't have the same jurisdiction over the Grand Slams as we do over our own sanctioned events."

Russian players Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Aslan Karastev, Karen Khachanov and Evgeny Donskoy are banned from Wimbledon. (Photo By Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images)
Russian players Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Aslan Karastev, Karen Khachanov and Evgeny Donskoy are banned from Wimbledon. (Photo By Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Wimbledon could face legal challenge from players

There are three potential avenues of action, Tatiana Vassine, a lawyer in sports law, told AFP.

They lie in discrimination based on nationality, an attack on the freedom to work and the right to equal treatment.

"It's a measure which it seems applies only to tennis players - other professionals of Russian and Belarusian nationality are able to continue their professional activity on English soil," she said.

However, she believes that Wimbledon is only at the "declaration of intent" stage.

"We must not underestimate the 'soft power' of sport," she said.

The ATP and WTA have already described the ban as "unfair" and "very disappointing".

World No.1 Novak Djokovic said it was "crazy", Rublev blasted the move as "complete discrimination" while the Belarus Tennis Federation believes the ban will "incite hatred".

Wimbledon also faces the charge of double standards.

They excluded German and Japanese players for several years after World War II while South African players were allowed to play during the apartheid era.

"People take the position that sports and politics shouldn't match and shouldn't be intertwined, but that's not the reality," Simon added.

"At times sports does cross into politics and here is a situation where politics is crossing into sports. It is real life.

"The one thing that this sport has always agreed upon was that entry into our events has always been based upon merit and without discrimination."

Steve Simon, pictured here delivering a speech at the 2019 WTA Finals.
Steve Simon delivers a speech at the 2019 WTA Finals. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) (Matthew Stockman via Getty Images)

Rublev, who famously scribbled "No war please" on a TV camera lense at a Dubai tournament in February, suggested a more positive way forward for Wimbledon - donate prize money which last year totalled £35 million ($AUD 62 million).

"Banning Russian or Belarusian players....will not change anything," said the 24-year-old world number eight.

"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.

"It will be Wimbledon who take all the glory."

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 banished from the Davis Cup and BJK Cup competitions.

with AFP

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