A ban on Russian and Belarusian tennis players at this year’s Wimbledon has become a controversial issue as the championships kicked off this week.
The All England Club has banned all Russian and Belarusian players from participating in the prestigious Grand Slam event due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its fifth month.
Top tennis player Daniil Medvedev, eighth Andrey Rublev, world number six Aryna Sabalenka and former Belarus women’s number one Victoria Azarenka are among those sidelined by the ban.
Wimbledon bans Russian and Belarusian tennis players because of war in Ukraine
The move has been criticized by other players, as well as both men’s and women’s governing bodies, who stripped the event of ranking points.
The ban is “unjustly” aimed at individual players who are treated as “pawns in this whole political game”, but there is much more at stake, some analysts say.
“It is highly symbolic and there are economic and political implications for the country targeted by the boycott,” said Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, a retired professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in critique of the Olympic industry and gender issues in sports. .
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Daniel Rubenson, a politics professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, said Wimbledon’s stance could be meaningful if it gains traction from other sports organizations, but it won’t end the war.
“This is not just a pin of a Ukrainian flag on your lapel. This is actually expensive,” he told Global News.
“I think it can have an effect… because countries and leaders are using sport as propaganda and they are using sport to try and rally their country.”
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Wimbledon organizers have defended the ban, with the All England Club chairman saying the decision was influenced by UK government guidelines and there was “no viable alternative”.
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Ian Hewitt told ESPN on Sunday that the AEC did not want Russia to use Wimbledon as a “propaganda machine”.
“We deeply regret the impact on the individual players who have been affected, but we also deeply regret the impact on so many innocent people that the tragic situation in Ukraine has caused,” he said.
Political sanctions in sport
International sport is no stranger to sanctions and boycotts due to political differences.
The United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
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South Africa was subjected to a variety of sporting sanctions by major international governing bodies during the apartheid era because of its institutionalized racial segregation.
Rubenson said the ban on South African athletes played “a really big part” in changing world opinion against apartheid and putting pressure on the South African government.
“Sport has always been used politically and will continue to be,” he told Global News.
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International sports cannot separate politics from sports and have failed when they tried to be neutral, said Bruce Berglund, a historian of Europe, Russia and world sports.
“In trying to maintain neutrality, it really played into the hands of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” he said of FIFA, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s past dealings with Russia.
“Organizations hosting these events need to be aware of international affairs.”
Russian and Belarusian tennis players are currently banned from international team competitions, but they can participate in tour events as individual athletes under a neutral flag.
They were allowed to participate in the French Open in Paris that concluded earlier this month and will be able to play at the upcoming US Open and warm-up tournaments in Canada.
Lenskyj said tennis has set a good example in challenging countries like Russia and other international federations would do well to follow suit.
“They can’t be silent and they can’t be neutral,” she said.
— with files from Katherine Aylesworth and the Reuters
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