August 12, 2022

The Wimbledon Championships, one of the four most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world, began on Monday without the world’s top-ranked male player, who the tournament banned for being Russian.

The organization that runs Wimbledon, the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, announced in April that it would ban players with Russian nationality from the tournament in protest at the Russian government’s broader invasion of Ukraine. Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014, colonizing the country’s Crimean peninsula and credibly suspected of supporting ethnic Russian separatist groups in the country’s eastern Donbass region. Wimbledon officials in no way changed tournament policies to deal with the first eight years of the war, but responded to the escalation in February that saw Russian troops invade more western parts of the Ukraine – including the capital, Kyiv – by banning Russian players.

Contrary to its Russian policy, the Wimbledon tournament allows 11 Chinese players to participate this year despite international human rights experts agreeing that Beijing is currently engaging in genocide, managing more than 1,000 concentration camps for non-Han ethnic groups and persecuted former Wimbledon champion Peng Shuai for accusing a Chinese government official of raping her last year.

This combination of file photos shows tennis player Peng Shuai of China (L) during her women’s singles first round match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 16, 2017; and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (right) during a visit to Russia at the St. Petersburg International Investment Forum in St. Petersburg on June 18, 2015. (PAUL CROCK, ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP via Getty Pictures)

Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) men’s number one Daniil Medvedev and number eight Andrey Rublev are the two best Russian players missing from the tournament. Banning Rublev seems particularly tough given his outspoken opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the face of the government’s widespread crackdown on dissidents in the country.

Andrei Rublev

Number eight player Andrey Rublev (Martin Dokoupil/Getty Images)

Wimbledon is the second Grand Slam tournament – the four most prestigious tennis tournaments – to start this year without the best male player in the world. In January, the Australian Open went without then-number one Novak Djokovic after the Australian government forced him into a migrant detention center and deported him for not receiving doses of the drug. a Chinese coronavirus vaccine candidate – after the government admitted it had issued Djokovic with a legal warrant. visa to enter the country.

With Medvedev banned, Djokovic entered Wimbledon as the tournament’s top seed, followed by Rafael Nadal, who won the Australian and French Opens this year. Nadal, who has now won the most Grand Slams in men’s tennis history after not facing Djokovic at the Australian Open, is widely considered a favorite at Wimbledon, which he has won twice.

Novak Djokovic (AFP John DONEGAN)

Novak Djokovic (AFP John DONEGAN)

Wimbledon officials initially hinted that Medvedev, as the best Russian player in the world, would have to publicly denounce Vladimir Putin to participate in the tournament. UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston told a hearing in March that the government was considering intervening to prevent Russian or Belarusian players – Belarus is a close ally of Moscow – from entering the UK s did not condemn Putin. The government ultimately did not have to intervene as tournament organizers banned Russian and Belarusian players altogether.

Medvedev said little about the ongoing war in Ukraine. In May, he described the situation as “very upsetting” in general and lamented the possibility that he could not play at Wimbledon because of it.

“I don’t know if this decision is 100% and it’s over. … If I can play, I’ll be happy to play at Wimbledon. I love this tournament,” Medvedev said at the time.

Rublev strongly denounced the actions of his own government. In February, while playing at the Dubai Championships, Rublev chose to write “no war please” on a camera lens after winning his quarter-final match instead of signing the lens as this has become the custom in many tournaments.

“In those moments, you realize that my match is not important. It’s not about my match, how it affects me,” Rublev said of the war at the time. “What is happening is far more terrible.”

Rublev denounced the ban on his participation because of his citizenship as “total discrimination”.

“Banning Russian or Belarusian players… won’t change anything,” Rublev said, saying Wimbledon should instead give the tournament prize money to Ukraine as humanitarian aid.

The tournament did not follow Rublev’s advice but distributed 1,000 free tickets to watch tennis matches to Ukrainian refugees.

Wimbledon’s decision proved extremely unpopular among other male tennis players. Djokovic, who had just faced a sort of Grand Slam ban in Australia, called the expulsion of players because of their nationality “crazy” when organizers announced the decision in April.

“I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war,” Djokovic told reporters at the time, referring to his childhood in post-war Serbia. “I know how much emotional trauma that leaves. In Serbia we all know what happened in 1999. In the Balkans we have had many wars in recent history. However, I can’t support the Wimbledon decision, I think it’s crazy.”

“When politics gets involved [sic] with sport, the result is not good,” concluded Djokovic.

Nadal, who took a high-profile stance condemning Djokovic during the Australian Open controversy, also opposed the banning of Russian and Belarusian players from Wimbledon.

“It’s not their fault what’s happening right now with the war,” Nadal said in May. “I feel sorry for them. Wimbledon has just made its decision. … The government didn’t force them to do it.

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