Wimbledon, the most emblematic grand slam in tennis, reflects on its position on the participation of Russian nationals.
UK Sports Secretary Nigel Huddleston recently suggested that any Russian who plays at Wimbledon might need assurances about his position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “Absolutely no one carrying the flag. “We need a potential guarantee that they are not Putin’s supporters, and we’re looking at what requirements we might need to try to get guarantees along these lines.”
The All England Lawn and Tennis Club is discussing with the Minister of Sports about the nature of any insurance and whether it would apply to Wimbledon.
CALL FOR REFEREE
It now seems likely that Russian players, including second-placed men Daniil Medvedev and top-level women like Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, will have to put aside the symbols and language that link them to the Russian state and commit to playing Wimbledon as neutral.
Medvedev has already taken a step in that direction by removing the Russian flag from his social media profiles. He also expressed the desire for world peace.
However, the generic claim of waiting for peace is not the same as taking a stand in a war in which the country itself is the antagonist. Medvedev himself takes a neutral stand in the face of a war opposed by the British government.
Make no mistake: The Wimbledon tournament hosted by a NATO country is more than just a tennis show. It is also a demonstration of what Britain sees fit, which is unlikely to be diplomacy and accommodation.
Huddleston only seems comfortable with Russian athletes who oppose or do not support the war, and are therefore willing to distance themselves from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
INSIDE OR OUTSIDE?
Putin’s global anguish has been so deep that sport itself has been forced to abandon its usual veil of political neutrality.
Thus, sports organizations around the world have positioned themselves on the participation of Russian and Belarusian teams and athletes.
One answer has been exclusion, in the hope that the isolation of Russian teams from world sport will be a necessary affront to Europe’s largest military invasion since World War II. This is the position of swimming, athletics and football.
However, some sports organizations, such as tennis and biathlon, allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as long as they do so as neutral. Tennis clubs, however, have suspended Russian and Belarusian players from team competitions.
Even the International Olympic Committee, which has long refused to take a position on geopolitical issues, has implored sports bodies and event organizers not to invite or allow Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials to participate in international competitions.
In addition, during the recent Beijing Paralympic Games, several countries refused to compete against Russian teams, prompting organizers to exclude Russian athletes.
SPIN OR SUBSTANCE?
The All England Lawn and Tennis Club has the ability to decide the rules of entry to Wimbledon. It can diplomatically align with the ATP and the WTA (the organizing bodies of the men’s and women’s tours) or ban the Russians.
This is all controversial. Some critics have suggested that the human rights of Russian athletes are being violated because they are not responsible for military activities in Ukraine.
However, some Russian sports stars, willingly or unwillingly, have made their position known. Several have made public appearances with the letter Z, which has become a symbol of support for Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Perhaps the most inflexible pro-Putin defender is Russian chess champion Sergey Karjakin, who praised his country’s special military operation on Twitter.
Instead, some Russian sports stars have expressed their disapproval of the war, a dangerous position given that this type of dissent is now considered a crime with some 15,000 Russians already detained.
Countries opposed to the ongoing demolition of Ukraine by Russia have relied on economic sanctions as the main deterrent. Unfortunately, these measures are hurting and harming the common Russians.
Some critics argue that Western sanctions are hypocritical given the US and Allied military interventions in places such as Iraq or the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel.
From this point of view, global sanctions should have been applied against the United States or Israel, with implications for sport. Thus, discussions about Ukraine have focused not only on Russian imperialism and Putin’s fascism, but also on the turpitude of the Washington-led rule-based order.
Whether the All England Club bans Russian players or accepts them as neutral will have been decided in consultation with the British Sports Minister, at a time when Britain is supplying weapons to Ukraine.
None of this is uplifting.
Russian tennis players, if allowed to play, will face intense scrutiny both on and off the court. Would a Medvedev victory be a Putin victory? Would Medvedev’s absence help the anti-war effort?
In the midst of all this are athletes who, like ordinary Russians, may end up being unjustly punished.
But war is the fifth essence of injustice.
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