Wimbledon, tennis’ most iconic grand slam, reflects on its stance on the participation of Russian nationals.
UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston recently suggested that for any Russian playing at Wimbledon, âinsurancemight be needed on their stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:
Absolutely no one flying the flag of Russia should be allowed or allowed. We need potential assurance that they are not Putin supporters and we are looking at what requirements we might need to try to get assurances along those lines.
The All England Lawn and Tennis Club is in discussions with the Minister for Sport over the nature of any insurance and whether it would be applied at Wimbledon.
It now seems likely that Russian players, including second-ranked men’s player Daniil Medvedev and top women like Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, will have to shed the symbols and language linking them to the Russian state, and commit to participating in Wimbledon as “neutrals”.
Medvedev has already taken a step in this direction by removing the Russian flag from his social media profiles. He also expressed a wish for world peace.
However, the generic affirmation of hoping for peace is not the same as taking a stand on a war in which one’s country is the antagonist. Medvedev himself adopts a neutral position on a war that the British government opposes.
Make no mistake: the Wimbledon tournament â ââhosted by a NATO country â is more than a display of tennis. It is also a demonstration of what Britain considers appropriate, which is unlikely to be diplomacy and housing.
Huddleston only seems comfortable with Russian athletes who oppose or don’t support the war, and so are willing to distance themselves from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Inside or outside?
Global angst over Putin has been so deep that the sport itself has been forced out behind its usual veil of political âneutralityâ. Thus, sports organizations around the world have taken a position on the participation of Russian and Belarusian teams and athletes.
One response has been exclusion, in the hope that isolating Russian teams from world sport is a necessary affront to the the greatest military invasion in Europe since World War II. This is the position taken by swimming, athletics and football.
However, some sports bodies, such as tennis and biathlon, allow Russians and Belarusians to compete provided they do so as “neutrals”. Tennis bodies, however, have suspended Russian and Belarusian players from team competitions.
Read more: Sport is politics: Reaction and inaction to Putin’s war of aggression
Even the pose International Olympic Committeewho has long refused to take a stand on geopolitical issues, implored sports bodies and event organizers to “not to invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitionsâ.
Moreover, during the recent Paralympic Games in Beijing, several countries refused to participate against Russian teamswhich prompted the organizers to exclude Russian athletes.
Spin or substance?
The All England Lawn and Tennis Club has the ability to decide entry rules for Wimbledon. He can align himself diplomatically with the ATP and WTA (the organizing bodies of the men’s and women’s tours), or ban the Russians outright.
All of this is controversial. Some critics have suggested that the human rights of russian athletes are denied, as they are not responsible for military activities in Ukraine.
However, some Russian sports stars â whether willingly or not â have made their position known. Several have made public appearances bearing the letter Zwho became a support symbol for Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Perhaps the most adamant pro-Putin lawyer is the Russian chess champion Sergei Karjakinwho took to Twitter to praise his country’s “special military operation”.
On the other hand, some Russian sports stars have expressed their disapproval of wara perilous position given this type of dissent is now considered a crime â with some 15,000 Russians people already arrested.
Countries opposed to Russia’s ongoing demolition of Ukraine have at this stage relied on economic sanctions as their primary deterrent. Unfortunately, these measures hurt and harm ordinary Russians.
Some critics claim that Western sanctions are hypocritical considering US and allied military interventions in places like Iraq, or Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
From this point of view, comprehensive sanctions should have been implemented against USA or Israelwith flow consequences for sport. Discussions on Ukraine have therefore not only focused on Russian imperialism and Putin’s fascism, but also on the turpitudes of the policy directed by Washington.rule-based orderâ.
Read more: FIFA’s suspension of Russia is a rarity – but one that lays bare the idea that sport can be apolitical
Whether the All England Club bans Russian players or accepts them as neutrals will have been decided in consultation with Britain’s sports minister, at a time when Britain is supplying arms to Ukraine.
None of this is edifying.
Russian tennis players, if allowed to play, will face intense scrutiny both on and off the court. Would a victory for Medvedev be a victory for Putin? Would Medvedev’s absence help the anti-war effort?
In the midst of it all are athletes who, like ordinary Russians, may become â perhaps unfairly â the target of punishment.
But war is the quintessence of injustice.