Wimbledon Decision: An Unhealthy Precedent
The decision of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) to ban the Russian and Belarusian players from participating in the forthcoming Wimbledon tournament in the wake of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, will set an unhealthy and disturbing precedent as individual athletes are paying the price for a decision they are not party to. It appears that while taking the decision, the organisers of the world’s most prestigious Grand Slam tournament Wimbledon, have forgotten the simple fact that apart from Olympics, Davis Cup or ATC Cup, the tennis players do not represent their respective nations; rather they participate as individuals in grand slam and other tournaments. So preventing anyone from playing in the tournament on the basis of his or her nationality is questionable and the organisers may face legal action for indulging in such discriminatory attitudes. Already, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), along with WTA, the trade body for men’s and women’s professional tennis players, have announced that the players will not get any ranking points by participating in this year’s Wimbledon tournament in protest against AELTC’s unilateral decision. The decision has reduced this year’s tournament from a fiercely competitive one to an invitational one. Tennis legend Rafael Nadal, winner of a record 22 Grand Slam tournaments has also criticised the decision by terming it ‘unfair’. English media too are strongly against such a step. However, the United Kingdom’s (UK) Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston welcomed the decision, claiming it a step in accordance with the country’s position to corner Russia for invading Ukraine in every field. Most European countries and also the US appear to be supporting the UK as no nation has denounced the decision. As a result, tennis lovers will miss Daniil Medvedev (world ranking 2), Andrey Rublev (world ranking 8), Olympic gold medalist Victoria Azarenka, Aryna Sabalenka and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in this year’s Wimbledon.
It is a clear case of politicising sports, which is not in sync with the traditions and high standards set by the 147-year-old tennis tournament. Every year, millions of tennis lovers from all across the globe eagerly wait for the last Monday of June for the commencement of the tournament, as the competition puts players on a different field to prove their talents, abilities and endurances on well-manicured grass courts. This is the only major tournament in the world which is played on grass, which is faster and has lower bounce than clay, hard or artificial surfaces. Very few players like Bijorn Borg or Roger Federer have adopted the surface as their backyard, while great tennis players like Ken Rosewall or Ivan Lendl have failed to do so despite several attempts. The grass courts of Wimbledon have witnessed many epic Tennis battles over the years and there may have been some additions to the said list this year, had organisers allowed all players to participate. Clearly, AELTC is politicising sports and going against the spirit of the game.