Tennis stars including Novak Djokovic, Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, and legendary ex pro Martina Navratilova, have come out against Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players.
There was a backlash from the sporting community after SW19 said athletes, including men’s world number two Daniil Medvedev and women’s world number four Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus , cannot compete due to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Under WTA and ATP rules however, they can chose to play as neutrals, while yesterday, Wimbledon was warned it may face legal action over the ban.
Djokovic, who is world number one said he “cannot support” the decision to ban Russians.
In a statement reported by the Telegraph, the Serbian said: “I will always be the first one to condemn the war. As a child of war, I know what kind of emotional trauma a war leaves us.
“That being said, I cannot support the Wimbledon decision. It’s not the athletes’ fault. When politics interfere with sports, it usually doesn’t turn out well.”
Martina Navratilova, who retired in 2006, also criticised the All England Club’s decision, during an interview on Andrew Marr’s BBC show.
The Czech-born ex pro who renounced her citizenship during the cold war said: “Exclusion is not the way to go,”
“I think this is just going further than they needed to be going.. it’s the wrong decision.”
She said “some have even expressed their opposition to the war,” and it left Russian and Belarusian players with the “only option” to leave their country which is “something that I had to do in ’75, because of a totalitarian regime.”
Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, who is ranked number 25 in the world, had called for a ban previously, but appeared to soften her position during an interview with the BBC, saying she didn’t “want them banned completely”.
“If players don’t speak out against the Russian government then it is the right thing to ban them. We just want them to speak up, if they are with us and the rest of the world or the Russian government.”
She also took to Twitter with a series of demands for Russian players to address, if they want to compete.
The move was also criticised by Billie Jean King, the founder of the WTA, who said: “I cannot support the banning of individual athletes from any tournament, simply because of their nationality.”
Russian players have aired criticism of the war, with Medvedev making a plea for peace in February and Andrey Rublev writing ‘no war please’ on a tv camera during his win in Dubai.
“What is happening now is complete discrimination against us,” said Rublev, according to the Telegraph.