Novak Djokovic slams ‘CRAZY’ decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from Wimbledon

World No 1 Novak Djokovic has slammed Wimbledon organizers for their ‘crazy’ decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Djokovic, the defending Wimbledon men’s singles champion, said he ‘cannot support’ the move from the All England Club, warning it is ‘not good’ when politics interferes with sport.

The decision prevents the likes of men’s world No 2 Daniil Medvedev from competing at the Grand Slam event, set to take place from June 27 to July 10.

World No 1 Novak Djokovic criticized the 'crazy' decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players

World No 1 Novak Djokovic criticized the ‘crazy’ decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players

Russia's Daniil Medvedev will have to sit out of Wimbledon having been barred from playing

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev will have to sit out of Wimbledon having been barred from playing

The banning of multiple top 100 players from Wimbledon has left threats of potential legal action, and the possible removal of ranking points, hanging over a centrepiece of the British sporting summer.

Player bodies in the shape of the ATP and WTA Tours – which are representative organizations – have expressed concern over the ban and are indignant over the prospect of members being excluded from high-profile opportunities to earn prize money and points.

Yet ultimately Wimbledon could not face the possibility of players from pariah nations lifting their trophies in this, of all years, being the Centenary of the Center Court.

That precipitated Wednesday’s action, about which the ATP and WTA were only informed on late Tuesday afternoon.

The All England Club are bracing themselves for legal action in response to the decision

The All England Club are bracing themselves for legal action in response to the decision

‘I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war,’ Djokovic, whose chances of retaining his Wimbledon crown have been boosted by the absence of Medvedev, said during the Serbia Open.

‘I know how much emotional trauma it leaves. In Serbia we all know what happened in 1999. In the Balkans we have had many wars in recent history.

‘However, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good.’

Ukraine’s former world No 3 Elina Svitolina, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon three years ago, suggested Russian and Belarusian players should be allowed to participate at the event if they denounce Vladimir Putin’s war.

Elina Svitolina said Russian and Belarusian players should be able to play if they denounce the invasion of Ukraine

Elina Svitolina said Russian and Belarusian players should be able to play if they denounce the invasion of Ukraine

The ban was put in place in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which started in February

The ban was put in place in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started in February

‘The best way is not to ban them completely, but make them speak about the war in Ukraine, to ask them if they support the invasion in Ukraine, if they support the government,’ Svitolina told Sky News.

‘And if they can answer those questions and if they say they don’t support it [the war]they don’t support Putin, they don’t support Lukashenko, then they would be allowed to participate.’

The ATP criticized the decision, claiming it is ‘unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game’, while the WTA said it was ‘disappointed’ by the ‘discriminatory’ move.

A LEGAL VIEW ON THE WIMBLEDON DECISION

‘Wimbledon is operated by The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (‘AELTC’). In that respect the AELTC has the power to control participation in the tournament in the same way that organizers control entry to other elite events in other sports. For example, entry to the Masters golf tournament is ostensibly by invitation only,’ says Stephen Taylor Heath, Head of Sports Law at JMW Solicitors.

‘Wimbledon, like the Masters however also has the status of a ‘major’ tournament due to its history and quality of field. Further it carries world ranking points and association with professional tours. Wimbledon is listed by the ATP (Men) and WTA (Women) as part of their respective tours.

‘Accordingly even where entry is essentially by invitation it can be anticipated that a player will automatically receive an invite for reason of their world ranking or previous success.

‘In this regard players who are banned by the AELTC from participating may seek to argue they are being deprived not only of potential prize money but also world ranking points that can have a knock on effect with season ending bonuses, entry into such events as the Tour Finals and sponsor bonuses.

‘The players’ arguments would be enhanced by the argument Wimbledon’s position is out of step with other ‘majors’ and the ATP or WTA itself.

‘Ultimately any legal challenge would likely be undermined by the AELTC arguing that they are acting within their powers under the constitution of the event and any player wishing to participate has to abide by the event’s constitution. It is difficult to see how the decision breaches UK law on discrimination grounds or otherwise. They may face the ATP/WTA evaluating their status as a major and ranking tournament. In reality, however such a move is unlikely given the current political landscape particularly as their stance would appear to have government support.’

The Kremlin also reacted with fury. Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: ‘To make sportspeople hostages of political intrigue is unacceptable.’

There has been support, however, from the British Government and other Grand Slam tournament organisers.

Stephen Taylor Heath, head of sports law at JMW Solicitors, suggested any legal challenges may fail as the All-England Club has the power ‘to control participation in the tournament in the same way that organizers control entry to other elite events in other sports’ .

‘Ultimately any legal challenge would likely be undermined by the AELTC arguing that they are acting within their powers under the constitution of the event and any player wishing to participate has to abide by the event’s constitution,’ Heath added.

‘It is difficult to see how the decision breaches UK law on discrimination grounds or otherwise.’

Men’s world No 8 Andrey Rublev and women’s fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka, a semi-finalist at last year’s Wimbledon, are among the other big names who will miss out on playing at the tournament as a result of the decision.

Russian world No 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka – a two-time Australian Open champion – will also be absent.

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