Three main tours allow Russian players to compete without flags or anthems – but it seems likely All England Club will go further
Wimbledon are ready to ban world No2 Danill Medvedev from this year’s tournament over fears a Russian victory could boost the Vladimir Putin regime.
The All England Club have been advised their independent status means that they could exert a ban on Russian and Belarussian players failing to denounce Putin and not face any legal repercussions. It sets the London grand slam apart from the main tennis tours, who have stayed largely neutral over fears they could be taken to court.
Recent images of war crimes in the suburbs of Kyiv have only added weight to the words of Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, who is adamant that Putin must not be allowed to make political capital from the exploits of Russian athletes in Britain.
And while the three main tennis tours – which are administered by the ATP, the WTA and the ITF – have settled for requiring Russian individuals to continue playing without flags or anthems, it now seems increasingly likely that Wimbledon will go further.
As one person who has worked closely with the AELTC put it: “Private member clubs have more freedom as to who to allow in or not, so they wouldn’t be subject to the same discrimination laws as the tours.
“If you are running the main tennis tour, you have the freedom to ban players – if they have been found guilty of match-fixing or doping, for instance – but you have to be able to show that this course of action is reasonable.
“In this instance, if the tours took strong action, Russians players could argue that they are being prevented from making a living through no fault of their own. That is not so much of an issue for Wimbledon, however.”
With Wimbledon’s entry deadline set for mid-May, the AELTC are keen to set out a policy within the next month, so that players know what is required of them.
Huddleston has already suggested that players such as Medvedev or world No 5 Aryna Sabalenka, who is Belarussian, should only be allowed to participate in major sporting events in the UK if they sign an anti-Putin form.
As Huddleston said last week: “We wish to get assurance in a written declaration that they are not receiving money from Putin, Russia or Belarus [and] that they will not be making supportive comments of Putin, Russia or Belarus.”
Such declarations, in practice, would surely be too dangerous for any Russian players to make – unless they have no family still living in the country. So there is a realistic prospect of Wimbledon going ahead without Russian participation this summer.
Other grass-court events in the UK – such as Queen’s – will have to address the same issues. The Lawn Tennis Association say that they are in discussions with the tours over this issue, as well as the AELTC. But LTA sources acknowledged on Monday that they have less room for manoeuvre than Wimbledon do.
As the world No 2, Medvedev is the player that Huddleston should be most worried about – in terms of the nightmarish optics of a Russian holding up the trophy on Wimbledon’s Centre Court on July 10. However, Medvedev announced last week that he has been suffering from a hernia and will miss the next two months of tennis.
ATP vow to clamp down on players after rise in ill-discipline
The ATP Tour has responded to a wave of ill-disciplined behaviour by promising to hand out sterner sentences and crack down on repeat offenders.
Men’s tennis has been criticised recently for going easy on culprits such as Alexander Zverev – who thrashed his racket into an umpire’s chair in Acapulco – or Nick Kyrgios, who regularly finds himself picking up minor Code of Conduct fines.
On Monday, though, ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi sent out a circular to the workforce in which he said that tougher rulings would be introduced during the upcoming clay-court season.
“Effective immediately, the ATP officiating team has been directed to take a stricter stance in judging violations of the Code of Conduct,” said Gaudenzi. “Additionally, we are also undertaking a review of the Code, as well as the disciplinary processes, to ensure that it provides appropriate and up-to-date penalties for serious violations and repeat offenders.”
Zverev received a suspended eight-week ban for his behaviour in Acapulco, which many believed should have been treated more harshly. Kyrgios then got away with fines of no more than $60,000 at the two American Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami, despite a dangerous racket toss and some unpleasant language.
Jenson Brooksby also prompted criticism when he threw his racket in the vicinity of a ball-boy. In general, the first quarter of the 2022 season has seen more friction between umpires and players than at any time since John McEnroe was at his peak, starting with the $8,000 fine handed out to Canada’s Denis Shapovalov for yelling “You guys are all corrupt” at chair umpire Carlos Bernardes during the Australian Open.
“We all have a role to play to uphold the reputation and integrity of our sport,” said Gaudenzi in his note to players. “The first three months of the season have seen an unusual frequency of high-profile incidents involving unsportsmanlike conduct.
“These incidents shine a bad light on our sport. This conduct affects everyone, and sends the wrong message to our fans, especially young fans.”