Wimbledon 2022: Russian and Belarusian players excluded to counter potential use by Russian ‘propaganda machine’

US Open champ and ATP No2 Medvedev and WTA No4 Sabalenka among those impacted; No Covid restrictions on fan capacity or vaccination status; centenary and jubilee celebrations planned

Wimbledon
Wimbledon (Photo: AELTC)

Following two Covid-affected years, with the Championships cancelled in 2020, and many on-site restrictions in place last year, The All England Club today confirmed there would be restrictions on fans or players in what is a centenary year for the tournament.

The oldest of the four tennis Majors will mark the tournament’s move from Worple Road to its present location, and the opening of its centre court, 100 years ago

However, while the news that the grounds will return to their maximum 42,000 daily capacity, and that the much-loved Queue will be back in action, the post-Covid environment took second place to other recent developments.

Against the background of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, news broke last week that the Championships was intending to ban entry from Russian players, as well as those from its ally Belarus. The announcement brought condemnation from many quarters, including both the men’s and women’s professional bodies.

From the ATP: “Our sport is proud to operate on the fundamental principles of merit and fairness, where players compete as individuals to earn their place in tournaments based on the ATP rankings. We believe that today’s unilateral decision by Wimbledon and the LTA to exclude players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s British grass-court swing is unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game. Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP rankings. Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our Board and Member councils.

From the WTA: “As the WTA has consistently stated, individual athletes should not be penalized or prevented from competing due to where they are from, or the decisions made by the governments of their countries. Discrimination, and the decision to focus such discrimination against athletes competing on their own as individuals, is neither fair nor justified… The WTA will be evaluating its next steps and what actions may be taken regarding these decisions.”

However, chairman Ian Hewitt, talking at Wimbledon’s Spring Conference, explained:

“We believe this is an extreme and exceptional situation that takes us far beyond the interests of tennis alone. Russia’s ongoing invasion and the catastrophic harm to millions of lives taking place in Ukraine has been condemned worldwide… As part of that response, the UK Government has set out directional guidance for sporting bodies and events in the UK…

“After careful consideration, we came to two firm conclusions… First, even if we were to accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players with written declarations, we would risk their success or participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime—which we could not accept. Second, we have a duty to ensure that no actions we take should put the safety or welfare of players, or their families, at risk.

“We understand and deeply regret the impact this decision will have on every individual affected… but bound to act, we believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances.”

The ATP and WTA have already imposed ‘neutrality’ on the affected players on the professional tours, with no country or flag permitted in any media. That said, aside from national tournaments such as Fed Cup and Davis Cup, the players are independent athletes managing their own contracts with team members and organisations, including coaches, and it is as yet unclear whether such non-players will also be excluded.

The impact, though, will be felt heavily in both the men’s and women’s draws. World No2 Daniil Medvedev, the reigning US Open champion and briefly No1 in the ranks last month, is the most significant. His Russian compatriot, No8-ranked Andrey Rublev, will also be excluded, together with possibly two additional men’s seeds.

In the women’s singles draw, No4 Aryna Sabalenka and No17 Victoria Azarenka, are from Belarus, while No17 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, is Russian, along with the fourth-ranked doubles player, Veronika Kudermetova. Three further Russians might otherwise have been seeded in the singles draw.

Thus far, Wimbledon is the only Major to have taken such as stand.

Other news affecting the Championships

· Middle Sunday (3 July), which will feature as a permanent part of the schedule for the first time, will also be the focal point for the Centre Court Centenary celebrations, with a special moment planned between the second and third matches. It will also be a day for the local community, with tickets distributed to local residents, schools, charities and community groups.

· The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: the tournament will create two bespoke platinum coins to be used for the finals’ coin tosses.

· Quad wheelchair draws have been doubled to eight singles and four doubles.

· Invitation doubles events will return with women’s and men’s doubles draws plus the addition of a mixed doubles competition.

· Junior Championships are expanded with the addition of the 14-and-under draw alongside the existing 18-and-under draw.

· A final set tie-break at 6-6 in the final set will now be the first to 10 points with a two-point advantage.

· The staggered start times for No1 Court (1pm) and Centre Court (1.30pm) will be retained from last year, with the exception of Finals weekend, when play on Centre Court starts at 2pm.

· Following its introduction last year, enhanced mobile ticketing will continue, with all tickets distributed via the official Wimbledon mobile apps.

· Theme of ‘The Stage Awaits’ to mark the centenary, including a special logo, a refresh of Centre Court with a new central entrance for the players walking on court.

Schedule

· Wednesday 15 June: Further updates on Championships including wild cards.

· Monday 20-Thursday 23 June: Qualifying tournament at Community Sports Centre, Roehampton.

· Wednesday 22 June: Seeds announced.

· Friday 24 June: 10am, official draws.

· Round 4 singles schedule will be split over middle Sunday and second Monday.

· Second Tuesday and Wednesday will feature a combination of men’s and women’s quarter-finals.

· Mixed doubles final will be the concluding match on the second Thursday.

· Women’s singles final and men’s doubles final will headline final Saturday.

· Men’s singles final and women’s doubles final conclude Sunday.

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