Wimbledon chiefs consider reversing ban on Russian players

Wimbledon chiefs consider reversing ban on Russian players after being fined £825,000 and threatened with expulsion from the ATP Tour… with pressure building on All England Club and no end in sight to war in Ukraine

  • Pressure is being piled on Wimbledon to reverse its ban next summer
  • Feeling among All England Club hierarchy that they may have to back down 
  • Rest of circuit has defended the right of Russian players to carry on playing

Pressure is being piled on Wimbledon to reverse its ban on Russian players next summer after British tennis was hit by a £825,000 fine for barring them from all UK events this year.

The Lawn Tennis Association was left seething in the wake of the financial punishment from the ATP Tour, which came with the threat of being stopped from hosting official events.

This comes off the back of an earlier £620,000 sanction from the women’s WTA Tour, which is also insistent that competitors from Russia and Belarus are allowed to participate, albeit under neutral flags.

Daniil Medvedev was one of the favourites to win the Wimbledon title before Russian and Belarusian players were banned this year – with both the ATP Tour and WTA Tour issuing fines

At Wimbledon there are fears that there could be a repeat of this year, when the grass court Grand Slam was stripped of ranking points in retaliation for not letting in the likes of then world No 1 Daniil Medvedev.

Sportsmail understands that increasingly there is a feeling among the All England Club hierarchy that, with reluctance, they may have to back down and permit Russians to play.

With no end in sight to the war in Ukraine, the situation could otherwise become open-ended.

Wimbledon and the LTA (the latter operates the regular tour build-up events) have found themselves largely friendless in the international tennis community during the ongoing saga.

The WTA and ATP criticised Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players, such as World No 6 Aryna Sabalenka (pictured)

Despite Ukrainian players being extremely distressed by the stance, the rest of the circuit has strongly defended the right of players from Russia and Belarus to carry on playing regardless.

One potential solution could be the UK government directly intervening by simply refusing to issue visas, taking the matter out of British tennis’s hands.

A statement from the LTA barely disguised underlying feelings of disgust at their treatment. Like Wimbledon, which declined to give any official comment, there is acute frustration that the robust position of the UK government has not been taken into account.

‘The LTA is deeply disappointed with this outcome,’ it said. ‘The ATP, in its finding, has shown no recognition of the exceptional circumstances created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the international sporting community and UK Government’s response to that invasion.

Wimbledon chiefs appealed a fine from the WTA for banning Russian and Belarusian players

‘The ATP appear to regard this matter as a straightforward breach of their rules – with a surprising lack of empathy shown for the situation in Ukraine, and a clear lack of understanding of the unique circumstances the LTA faced.

‘The financial impact of both this fine and the WTA’s fine will have a material impact on the LTA’s ability to develop and host tennis in this country.

‘For example, we had intended to host a number of ATP Challenger level events to give more opportunities to lower ranked players in the first quarter of 2023 and will now not be able to do this, particularly given the possibility of further fines.’

From the outset of the invasion the tours’ position, and that of tennis as a whole, on the Ukraine situation has been laissez-faire, to say the least.

The grass court Grand Slam was stripped of ranking points following the ban last year

Only last week some players travelled to Russia to play an exhibition in St. Petersburg without sanction. Leading racket manufacturer Head was among the event’s sponsors.

Russia and Belarus teams are banned from next month’s United Cup team event in Australia, yet unlike Wimbledon ranking points will still be awarded, inviting accusations of hypocrisy.

The WTA Tour continues to take a hard and principled line on China following the disappearance of former player Peng Shuai, while ignoring the upset of its prominent Ukrainian members over the invasion.

The tour’s stance on Ukraine was criticised by Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Michelle Donelan, who said: ‘Despite widespread condemnation, the international tennis tours are determined to be outcasts in this, with investment in the growth of our domestic game hampered as a result. This is the wrong move by the ATP and WTA. I urge them to think carefully about the message this sends, and to reconsider.’

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