Sports | April 20, 2022 11:20 am

Wimbledon Planning “Unacceptable” Ban on Russian, Belarusian Players

The Kremlin is already pushing back on the ban the All England Lawn Tennis Club is expected to announce this afternoon

A tennis ball on the Centre Court at Wimbledon in 2019
A tennis ball on the Centre Court at Wimbledon in 2019.
Visionhaus/Getty Images

Following a report from The New York Times that the All England Lawn Tennis Club plans to ban Russian and Belarusian tennis players from competing at Wimbledon in June, a Kremlin spokesman called the move, which has not yet formally been announced, “unacceptable.”

“Once again they simply turn athletes into hostages to political prejudice, political intrigues,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to The Moscow Times. “This is unacceptable. Taking into account that Russia is a very strong tennis country, our athletes are at the top of world rankings, the competition itself will suffer from their removal.”

Four Russian men, including No. 2 Daniil Medvedev (the reigning U.S. Open champion), are ranked in the ATP top 30. Five Russian women are in the WTA top 40, and Belarus has two in the top 20, including No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka.

Players from Russia and Belarus have previously been banned from team events like the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup (both of which were won by Russian teams in 2021) due to Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, but players from the two countries have been competing as individuals without having flags or countries listed next to their names.

Other big-name events, including this week’s Boston Marathon, the Paralympics and the World Cup, have enacted similar bans. Wimbledon also banned players from Germany and Japan following World War II.

Competing at the King Cup earlier this month, Ukrainian team captain Olga Savchuk said Russian players need to be banned from individual events like Wimbledon. “Why is somebody who works in McDonald’s in Russia losing their job because of sanctions and the tennis players are exceptions?” she said. “I think it’s just a matter of time. It’s not me who’s making the decision, but I think they should also be banned from playing as individuals. It cannot just be a sanction against 90% of the Russian people and 10% not.”

By that logic, Russian NHL players like Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, New York’s Artemi Panarin, Pittsburgh’s Evgeny Malkin and St. Louis’s Vladimir Tarasenko should also be banned from competing for their respective teams. So far the NHL, which as suspended all business relationships in Russia and shut down its Russian-language media outlets, has given no indication it would even consider such a ban (which would likely be fought tooth and nail by the NHLPA) and there’s no reason to believe the league will, but it is an interesting moral consideration. It’s also possibly worth considering how the world’s treatment of Russian athletes will impact how incarcerated American WNBA star Brittney Griner is dealt with by authorities in Russia.

Expect to hear more about this story, including further pushback from the Kremlin, as soon as today. “We are not able to confirm or deny at present, but plan to make an announcement this afternoon,” the All England Lawn Tennis Club told CNN of the reported Wimbledon ban.