How will Wimbledon be punished?
Madrid is looking for ways to support our players. Djokovic and Nadal have also spoken out. A couple of weeks ago, the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) issued an official statement together with the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) that Russian and Belarusian tennis players will not be able to participate in tournaments under their auspices in 2022. Including the Grand Slam Tournament on grass – Wimbledon. All this time the tennis community has been actively discussing the ban of our players. The decision of Wimbledon was mainly supported by Ukrainian athletes, and the majority of the tour is inclined to the fact that we should not mix politics and sports.
For example, world No. 2 Paula Badoza, who has recently been playing doubles with Arina Sobolenko of Belarus, said: “In my opinion, this suspension makes no sense. You should not mix politics with sports, especially tennis, which is an individual sport. Yes, we all perform under the flag, but we represent ourselves. You can’t mix things that have nothing to do with each other and that are not Arina’s fault, for example. It seems unfair to me.”
The major professional tennis organizations, the WTA and ATP, reacted even harsher to the Wimbledon decision. Several times in their statements about the suspension of the Russians and Belarusians from Wimbledon they used such words as “discrimination” and “unfairness”. And this is understandable, because in early March the seven major tennis associations – WTA, ATP, ITF and all four Grand Slam tournaments, including Wimbledon, have decided to Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in individual tournaments without the flag and country designation. Specifically, the ATP document states, “We consider this unilateral decision by the LTA and Wimbledon unfair. It could set a devastating precedent for tennis. Discrimination on the basis of nationality violates our agreement with Wimbledon, which states that players’ participation is based solely on ATP rankings.”
Having said A about discrimination and unfairness, we must also say B about eliminating that very unfairness. If players can’t be allowed to go to Wimbledon after all, then their rights need to be protected in some way, and perhaps even punished by the major grass roots tournament for its arbitrariness and inconsistent position with other organizations. Madrid hosts a major combined tournament in the first week of May, bringing together the best men and women. According to some sources, in the Spanish capital they are deciding what to do with Wimbledon and how to support Russian and Belarusian tennis players.
By the way, the King of the Ground Rafael Nadal also clearly expressed his position: “I think it’s very unfair to my colleagues. It’s not their fault. I feel sorry for them. I wish the situation had been resolved differently. Now we’ll see what happens next, whether the players will make some kind of decision. When the authorities impose restrictions, it is obvious for everyone to follow them. But here the authorities simply made a recommendation, and Wimbledon went for drastic measures. Although the authorities didn’t force anyone to do so. Clearly, Grand Slam tournaments are not part of the ATP. But at the same time, the ATP draws the most points. Although the Slams are the most important tournaments, 2,000 points are played there, we need to play there. We’ll see what we’ll do.
World number one Novak Djokovic, who just arrived in Madrid, also explained in detail his position on Russian and Belarussian players’ exclusion from Wimbledon: “I talked to several Russian players when the Belgrade tournament was in progress. Obviously, it’s very unpleasant when you’re deprived of the right to play at the biggest tournament in the world. ATP, I understand, is going to analyze the whole situation to figure out what to do. But I haven’t spoken to the ATP yet. As I said earlier, I don’t support the Wimbledon decision. I think it’s just unfair and wrong”.
Both Nadal and Djokovic say that a decision should be made in the near future to restore justice to the Russian and Belarusian players. Let’s consider the options. Firstly, may not make any decision at all, and everything will remain on the current positions: our tennis players will not play at Wimbledon and will lose a lot of points and positions in the rankings. Such a situation will create a very dangerous precedent when leading players can be relegated for political reasons. And the authority of ATP and WTA will be shaken sharply. Few people will trust an organization that says one thing in words, but does nothing. And this concerns not only players, but sponsors as well.
The second option is to punish Wimbledon severely for arbitrariness: not to accrue ranking points for 2022 and to freeze points at this tournament for the past draws. In this situation, Wimbledon will be held as a commercial showcase tournament, with players fighting primarily for prize money, albeit very big ones. In this situation, some primitives and other tennis players who do not play well on grass can ignore this competition, take a break in the calendar, take a vacation and better prepare for the American hard court. Wimbledon’s sponsors aren’t likely to like that option.
And the third option is a compromise. And there are a lot of possibilities. For example, to accrue points at Wimbledon 2022 in the normal format, but freeze them for another year for all who were suspended. Djokovic stated: “I think the players council and ATP Tour leaders will decide what to do in this situation. Whether they will freeze the points completely, or remove only 50%, or something else. Over the course of the coronavirus, we’ve had different models tested that allow players to keep their points without playing. Could Wimbledon become an exhibition tournament without a points draw? It is theoretically possible, but I doubt that Wimbledon will have any points at all. The Russians and Belarussians are more realistic.
But with or without points, the fact remains that the Russians and Belarussians have been denied a chance to touch history in 2022 by fighting for a title at the most prestigious tennis tournament. Djokovic says, “Wimbledon, like other Grand Slam tournaments, is much more than just a competition where you get 2,000 points if you win. It is first and foremost a story. Wimbledon has been my dream tournament ever since I was a kid.