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Djokovic slams ‘crazy’ Wimbledon ban on Russian, Belarusian tennis players

Tennis World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who grew up in war-torn Serbia, said the athletes had nothing to do with the ongoing conflict, condemning the Wimbledon ban

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Tennis World No. 1 Novak Djokovic said Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is ‘crazy’. Wimbledon announced on 20 April that it had barred all Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s championships due to the invasion, which Russia calls a ‘special operation’.

Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to compete at this year’s Wimbledon due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the Grand Slam’s organisers All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said in a statement on Wednesday.

The AELTC said earlier this month it was in talks with the government on the participation of players from Russia and Belarus in the 27 June-10 July grasscourt Grand Slam.

The body said that it had a responsibility to play its part in the efforts of government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to “limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible.”

“We recognise that this is hard on the individuals affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime,” Ian Hewitt, chairman of the AELTC said in a statement.

Hewitt said the AELTC had “carefully considered” alternative measures that might be taken within the UK Government guidance.

Djokovic told reporters at the Serbia Open, “I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war.”

The grasscourt Grand Slam is the first tennis tournament to ban individual competitors from the two countries, meaning men’s world number two Daniil Medvedev from Russia and women’s fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will be banned from the tournament this time. Djokovic, who grew up in war-torn Serbia, said the athletes had nothing to do with the ongoing conflict.

“I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war,” Djokovic told reporters at the Serbia Open, an ATP 250 event in Belgrade. “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.”

The All England Lawn Tennis Club’s (AELTC) decision has been criticized by the ATP and WTA tours. The move is the first time players have been banned on the grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War Two era when and Japanese players were excluded.

The AELTC said it would ‘consider and respond accordingly’ if circumstances change between now and June.

“But given the high profile environment of The Championships, the importance of not allowing the sport to be used to promote the Russian regime and our broader concerns for public and player (including family) safety, we do not believe it is viable to proceed on any other basis,” he said.

The AELTC, which earlier planned to announce a decision in mid-May before the entry deadline for the event, said it would “consider and respond accordingly” if circumstances change between now and June.

A ban on Russian players prevents world number two Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, ranked eighth, from competing in the men’s draw. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is 15th in the women’s rankings.

Belarus is a key staging area for the invasion, which Russia calls a “special military operation.”

Women’s world number four Aryna Sabalenka and two-times Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus will be affected.

Tennis governing bodies had banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion.

Individual players are contractors and many do not reside in their country of birth. Russian and Belarusian players had been allowed to compete on tours but not under the name or flag of their countries.

Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpischev told the country’s Sport Express newspaper earlier that there was nothing it could do.

“I think this decision is wrong but there is nothing we can change,” Tarpischev said. “The (Russian) Tennis Federation has already done everything it could.

“I don’t want to talk about this, but I will say that this decision goes against the athletes… We are working on the situation, that’s all I can say.”

Wimbledon has not banned athletes from countries since after World War Two, when players from Germany and Japan were not allowed to compete.

The Lawn Tennis Association, whose events serve as Wimbledon warm-ups, also announced a ban on players from the two countries.

Earlier, Ukrainian players Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk issued statements calling for a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events.

They were joined by countryman Sergiy Stakhovsky, who had enlisted in Ukraine’s reserve army prior to Russia’s invasion, with the players urging Russian and Belarusian players to make clear their stance on the war.

International athlete-led pressure group Global Athlete said that banning players from the two countries would also “protect these athletes who have no choice to remove themselves from competitions.”

“These athletes must follow the orders from their countries’ leaders,” it added.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said last month that he would not be comfortable with a “Russian athlete flying the Russian flag” and winning Wimbledon in London.

Huddleston welcomed the latest decision.

“The UK has taken a leading role internationally to make clear that President (Vladimir) Putin must not be able to use sport to legitimise Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine,” Huddleston said in a statement.

“…We have set out our position with sports governing bodies and event organisers and will continue to encourage them to take appropriate action for their sport.”

Djokovic was just 11 years old when he endured airstrikes on the Serbian capital, which marked the beginning of what would be a 78-day campaign by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to try and bring an end to atrocities committed by Yugoslavia’s then-president Slobodan Milosevic’s troops against ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo.

“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,” Djokovic told reporters, adding “however, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good.”

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