UK government proposes Wimbledon ban for Daniil Medvedev and other Russian tennis players unless they repudiate Putin

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The British government stepped up its anti-Russian campaign last week by proposing to ban Russian tennis players, including the world’s top player Daniil Medvedev, from taking part in the Wimbledon tennis tournament unless they denounce Vladimir Putin.

When asked at a meeting of the UK Parliament’s select committee whether Medvedev would be allowed to compete at Wimbledon in late June and early July, UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston replied that Medvedev would have to provide “assurances” that he did not support Putin.

Seizing on the reactionary invasion of Ukraine by the Putin government, the propagandists of American and European militarism launched a hysterical campaign of anti-Russian chauvinism.

Daniil Medvedev at Wimbledon, 2019 (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Carine06)

“Absolutely no one should be allowed to fly the flag of Russia,” Huddleston said in his screed last week against Russian athletes and tennis players. “Many of us would be willing and able to allow them to compete as non-aligned, non-flag-carrying entities.”

“But I think we have to go beyond that,” he warned, adding, “we need potential assurances that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin, and we are considering the requirements which we might need to try to get some assurances along those lines.”

Huddleston directed none of his anger at Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his own government, which has overseen the deaths of more than 160,000 people in the UK during the COVID-19 outbreak. Infamously, Johnson reacted with criminal indifference to the spread of the pandemic: “No more f—king lockdowns. Let the bodies pile up.

Anti-Russian fever against Russian professional artists and athletes has gripped broad layers of the affluent middle class in the United States and Europe. There is nothing progressive about promoting such nationalist hysteria to divide working people in Russia, Europe and the United States through reckless warmongering and tightrope politics.

Among the most recent victims of this appalling anti-Russian campaign is the famous conductor Valery Gergiev, who was asked to denounce Putin, as well as pianists Denis Matsuev and Alexander Malofeev, conductor Tugan Sokhiev and cellist Anastasia Kobekina.

The anti-Russian campaign began even before Putin’s attack on Ukraine with the vicious and sensationalist campaign against the talented 15-year-old Russian figure skater. Kamila Valieva at the Beijing Olympics. The hysterical campaign against Russia and Belarusian athletes has gained momentum this month in several sports, including tennis, hockey and football.

A joint statement from the governing bodies of men’s and women’s tennis, the Women’s Tennis Players’ Association (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), announced in early March that they would suspend all tennis competitions in Russia.

The governing bodies also suspended the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) and the Belarusian Tennis Federation (BTF). They added: “For the time being, players from Russia and Belarus will continue to be allowed to participate in international tennis events on the Tour and Grand Slams. However, they will not compete under the name or flag of Russia or Belarus until further notice.

The joint statement noted: “A deep sense of distress, shock and sadness was felt throughout the tennis community following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week. Our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine and We commend the many tennis players who have spoken out and taken action against this unacceptable act of aggression and echo their calls for the violence to end and peace to return.

The hypocrisy of the ATP-WTA joint statement is all the more blatant because neither organization has ever bothered to denounce the countless illegal wars of aggression waged by the United States, Great Britain and the France over the past 30 years.

There is growing international opposition on social media to attacks on Russian tennis players such as Medvedev. A person noted on Twitter, “That’s weird. He’s not a politician or a military leader; he’s a tennis player. I’ve never seen American or British players in any sport disowning their governments for any of the various military campaigns they have undertaken.

Not a single American athlete or sports federation has been asked to expose President George W. Bush’s war crimes when he invaded Iraq under the guise of the most colossal lie of the 21st century, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Ironically, commentators pointed out the hypocrisy of war criminal George W. Bush who recently had fun with American tennis player Reilly Opelka.

Nor has there been outrage from British sports federations against former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who supported Bush’s crimes in Iraq. Barack Obama has also not been held accountable for his criminal drone strikes and wars in more than seven countries.

WTA chief Steve Simon, however, has had to distance himself from the British government’s efforts to impose outright bans on Russian tennis players. “I have a strong belief that these individual athletes should not be penalized by the decisions of an authoritarian leadership that is obviously doing terrible and reprehensible things,” Simon said.

Despite the hysteria against Russian athletes and tennis players, those who spoke out expressed only the most humane sentiments. During Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Medvedev said, “As a tennis player, I want to promote peace around the world. We play in so many different countries; I’ve been to so many countries as a junior and as a pro. It’s not easy to hear all this news. I am for peace.

Medvedev, 26, recently became the highest ranked tennis player in the world but lost that ranking last week after a loss at the Indian Wells tournament in California. He won his first Grand Slam at the US Open last year, beating then (and now) world number one Novak Djokovic. Born in 1996 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Medvedev is a hugely accomplished tennis player who has won 13 singles titles on the ATP Tour.

After a match in Dubai, Russian tennis player Andrei Rublev, looking distraught, wrote, “No war please” on a camera. At the Indian Wells tournament last week, when asked what he thought of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Rublev said: “What is happening is terrible. I feel really bad for everyone. This is why sport must be an example: we must be united, we must be outside of politics, set an example at least within sport. I think that would be a good message for a better world.

Former Australian tennis player Todd Woodbridge has criticized the British government’s proposal to ban Russian tennis players. Talk to Sports Sunday, Woodbridge said: “It’s such slippery and dangerous ground. We all know they have families in whatever part of Russia they come from, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side because your family will pay the price.

“It’s really dangerous territory, and we have to be very sensitive,” Woodbridge added.

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