Fans at the Wimbledon Championships aren’t prone to booing, even in the face of a Nick Kyrgios meltdown. And for now they have been spared the challenge to their usual decorum of a Russian or Belarusian player striding onto Centre Court this summer – to the chagrin of the men’s and women’s tours, not to mention a number of their current and former players.
I’ve never met Ian Hewitt, the lawyer who has chaired the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club through the challenges of Covid and now into the storm created by the war in Ukraine. But if you can judge someone by their actions, then I assume him to have commendable backbone.
In banning Russians and Belarusians from Wimbledon, Hewitt and his board have taken a strong stance in the moral debate and invited a legal battle that will be costly and debilitating, with no certainty of succeeding either.
The only jarring note in the All England position to date is the suggestion that a key factor has been a desire to avoid any possible embarrassment for its patron, the Duchess of Cambridge. I doubt that the discomfort of a royal will cut much ice in any upcoming court case. What’s a brief squirmy moment for a trophy presenter in the greater scheme of things?
I take the reference to royalty as an outward manifestation of the very considerable pressure that I understand the government has piled on behind the scenes.
Why other sports will be watching of Wimbledon ban attracts legal challenge
How might things play out from here? If the All England Club’s defence proves robust enough for it to be able to choose which players it welcomes to Wimbledon, expect the furore to die down swiftly. Commentators may refer occasionally to the absence of Daniil Medvedev and Aryna Sabalenka, but sporting competitions are rarely remembered for those who aren’t there.
If Hewitt and colleagues have a reversal forced upon them, however, Wimbledon will have to draw upon all of its deep history of etiquette to rise above its moral judgement and extend the same welcome to all competitors. No easy task, but no resigning matter either should it come to that.
And what of the players? Would Emma Raducanu happily take to the court to play Sabalenka or Dan Evans to face Medvedev? No sign of a player tide in favour of bans, but the Brits may find the media maelstrom uncomfortable on home soil.
Helpfully, the All England Club has deep pockets with which to fight its corner. The Championships turn a chunky profit – £50m in pre-pandemic 2019 – 90 per cent of which is disbursed to the Lawn Tennis Association to fund investment in the sport.
There will be many sports with less well-stuffed coffers looking to the Wimbledon case to determine how much scope they have to defend their positions on Russia from the inevitable legal challenges.
My TV remote took me down an unintended rabbit hole last week, to Comerica Park in Detroit where a crowd of 21,529 – many no doubt illegitimately WFH in the Thursday afternoon sunshine – had gathered to see the 3,000th hit by the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera against the New York Yankees.
Minutes after I arrived, at the bottom of the 8th, ‘Miggy’ stepped up to the plate for his last attempt at the milestone of that game, only to be tactically walked by the Yankees to a cacophony of boos. The play denied Cabrera the chance to bat, meaning no 3,000th hit.
“Yankees suck! Yankees suck!” shouted spectators. As the cameras panned to the ‘cheated’ fans, one commentator chortled that it was good to see parents starting their kids young. The Yankees were noisily alleged to suck for what little remained of their 3-0 defeat.
Let me tell you, it was great viewing. And clearly the fact that the Yankees were the pantomime villains made it all the livelier.
In writing about rugby union salary caps last week, I cited the Yankees as a franchise that’s happy year after year to overspend on player wages and take the financial penalties on the chin – but then failing to translate this overspend into on-field success.
Therein lie many of the other 174,999 reasons why the Yankees are deemed to suck by hoards outside Manhattan – Boston Red Sox fans to the fore.
The Yankees have won 27 of the 117 World Series since these began in 1903. They are comfortably the most successful franchise. The St Louis Cardinals are a distant second with eleven victories.
But since 2000 the Yankees have only triumphed once, way back in 2009. And yet, with the exception of 2018 and pandemic’s 2021, the team’s spendthrift owners have consistently been in luxury tax territory. Since last winning the World Series, the Yankees have paid an average $13m in ‘tax’ back into the central pot each year.
The LA Dodgers have stolen the Yankees’ base metal crown for overspending over the past couple of years, though. And even local rivals the Mets are running a bigger payroll than the Yankees in 2022.
It would take some years of financial restraint, however, before New York’s grander team could shake off the perception of arrogance that shrouds them – if they even cared to. In the meantime, if you love a pantomime, “Yankees…”
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The England and Wales Cricket Board lost its chair last October before the clocks went back. Now we’re back on British Summer Time once more and the search for his replacement is being restarted. No need to hurry. It’s not as if there are many problems in cricket to deal with right now.
Reports are that the director who led the abortive search, Ron Kalifa, may now get the job himself. In PLC world that conflicted solution would cause a major shareholder ruckus. But this is sport.
An altogether more pertinent question is whether a continuity candidate is the right choice given the urgent need for extensive change. The slothful pace to this point doesn’t bode well.
Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes at sportinc.substack.com