Wimbledon boss' shock confession about controversial Russia ban

Pictured right is Wimbledon CEO Sally Bolton, with Russian tennis star Daniil Medvedev on the left.
Wimbledon CEO Sally Bolton admits to harbouring regrets about the grand slam's Russia ban, despite defending the move. Pic: Getty

Wimbledon chief executive Sally Bolton admits she "regrets" the impact the All England Club's Russian ban has had on players, despite defending the controversial move taken by officials.

Bolton said she was relieved the world's top stars showed up at the grass court grand slam even though no rankings points are on offer.

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That is because both the men's and women's governing bodies of world tennis stripped Wimbledon of ranking points, in response to its ban on players from Russian and Belarus.

Both the ATP and WTA removed the points after the All England Club issued bans over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

It means players such as US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka cannot play in London.

The move proved particularly divisive in the tennis world, however, Bolton says Wimbledon officials did not expect the ATP and WTA to react the way they did.

Bolton said the decision to ban the players had been "incredibly difficult" and admits to harbouring some regrets after taking into account the response of the governing bodies.

"We thought it was a disproportionate decision in the context of the situation we found ourselves in and in the context of the global situation," she said before the start of play on the first day on Monday.

"And of course it punishes all the players so we felt it was disproportionate and I think the quality of the field we have playing in the Championships speaks for itself."

Bolton said despite the effect the bans had on all competitors at Wimbledon, she stood by the decision that was made.

“It was an incredibly difficult and complex decision to make at the time,” Bolton told the BBC on Monday morning.

“We spent a long time thinking about it and in making that decision. It was complicated but we stand by it.

"It was the right decision to make for the Championships. It’s still the right decision to make for the Championships. We hugely regret the impact it has on the individual players involved. But it remains the right decision for us this year.”

Former World No.1 Naomi Osaka, who last month pulled out of Wimbledon with an Achilles injury, had said previously she could skip it over the decision to remove ranking points.

Seen here, Naomi Osaka in action at the 2022 French Open.
Naomi Osaka expressed her reservations about playing Wimbledon despite no rankings points being on offer. Pic: Getty

But two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray it would "never feel like an exhibition" despite the absence of points.

Record crowds expected at All England Club

Bolton said she expected record crowds for the Championships this year, with the tournament switching to a permanent policy of playing on the middle Sunday, which used to be a rest day.

"The history of why we didn't used to play on middle Sunday was about the courts needing a rest but as grass-court technology, care and attention has improved over many years we arrived at a place where we believe the courts... could withstand 14 days," she said.

"And so we're very confident it can and we're really excited about adding the extra day but particularly the extra day on a Sunday when we think about available audiences and we think about trying to take tennis to as many people as we can globally."

Bolton also welcomed back Wimbledon's traditional queues for tickets, which did not take place during last year's coronavirus-disrupted event.

"Hugely significant and actually the fact that we didn't have it last year I think really emphasised to everybody the significance and importance of it," she said. "It was hugely missed.

"The reason why the queue is important is not because we think people enjoy queueing particularly in the UK, although traditionally everyone assumes the Brits like queueing, but it's really about accessibility."

with agencies

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