It’s a time to remember the Christmas truce of 1914, when weary British and German soldiers forgot they were fighting a war and escaped into a quiet retreat to play an impromptu game of football. The game united them like nothing else could. They hugged and kissed, rolled on the floor and celebrated one of the most amazing truces ever between two enemy countries. Such is the power of sport. He united the bitterest enemies – England and Germany – during the First World War. Football has become a metaphor for peace in the history of war.
The All-England Lawn Tennis Cub (AELTC) could take inspiration from this story staged by their own compatriots. His shameful act of banning highly ranked players from the upcoming Wimbledon tournament because their government has invaded a neighboring nation is not in keeping with the high ideals he holds. In a scathing editorial, The Guardian pointed out that the AELTC’s decision to ban athletes solely on the basis of their nationality “sets a troubling precedent that penalizes individual athletes for decisions made by their governments”.
It also sadly reflects a 147-year-old sporting event that has been applauded around the world for its impeccable reputation and high sporting standards.
Following the AELTC decision, Wimbledon announced a ban on all Russian and Belarusian players from the third tennis Grand Slam of the year, which begins on June 22. Unfortunately, Daniil Medvedev (world number 2) and Andrey Rublev (world number 8) will not be allowed to play at Wimbledon.
While they will be absent from the men’s side, top players like Aryna Sabalenka and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will be absent from the women’s event. So will Victoria Azarenka, former world number 1, Grand Slam winner and Olympic gold medalist, who was disqualified from competition at Wimbledon despite her condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, aided by her Native Belarus.
Although these players condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine (which in any case did not concern their participation in a tennis tournament), the British Minister for Sports, Nigel Huddleston, praised the “decisive action” taken by Wimbledon, saying “the UK played a leading role”. international community to make it clear that President Putin must not be able to use sport to legitimize Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine. A clear case of the politicization of sport. Punishing Medvedev for being Russian is sad. He is a gifted player and promises to be in the same league as the Big Three (Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.) His presence on the tennis courts and beyond has been marked by grace and refinement. Nor is he mired in controversy.
The next question to ask is whether tennis players represent their country when they compete in Grand Slam tournaments.
The answer is an emphatic “no”. Apart from the Davis Cup, ATC Cup and the Olympics, tennis players represent themselves. Their nationalities may be listed along with other details, but they do not play for any nation as tennis is an individual game and always has been, unlike cricket or football. A tennis player plays for himself in Grand Slam tournaments and receives trophies and prize money for himself. It is very clear that since he is not a representative of his nation, he cannot be punished or banned from playing due to the politics of his country.
The Olympics, on the other hand, have their own rules. Athletes must be citizens of the countries they represent. Thus, the players present their nationality with themselves to the world. Yet even here, players cannot be kicked out or punished in any way for the actions of the countries they represent. According to the rules established by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), “individual athletes participating in an individual sport shall not be penalized or prevented from competing solely because of their nationality or the decisions taken by the governments of their countries”.
Controversies are inevitable in any sport. Whether it’s the call for a boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics by human rights groups or Naomi Osaka’s refusal to attend press conferences, sport has always sparked disagreements, some serious and some trivial.
Tennis, in particular, has invited storms ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Whether it’s Maria Sharapova’s doping scandal or Djokovic’s demands for good quality food; Serena Williams calling the referee a thief and a liar or Nadal forced to change shorts in front of 7,000 spectators; insults, controversies and bad behavior (like Nick Kyrgios; verbal obscenities) have marred the tennis courts.
Still, tennis players are expected to be moderate and polite. It’s a gentleman’s game, like golf, where unruly behavior is not tolerated. So when an organization like the AELTC unfairly punishes players from countries whose governments have violated the rules of civilized behavior, such action must be condemned.