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Novak Djokovic criticises Wimbledon's 'crazy' ban on Russian and Belarusian players

Russian and Belarusian players have been banned from competing at Wimbledon and in all LTA grass court tournaments this summer; Reigning men's singles champion Novak Djokovic criticised the decision, as have the ATP and WTA founder Billie Jean King

Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns a ball to Laslo Djere of Serbia during their tennis match of the Serbia Open tennis tournament in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Image: Novak Djokovic spoke out against Wimbledon's ban on Russian and Belarusian players competing this summer

Novak Djokovic has branded the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at Wimbledon this year as "crazy".

The All England Club made the announcement on Wednesday, ruling out, among others, US Open champion and world No 2 Daniil Medvedev, men's world No 8 Andrey Rublev and women's fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka from featuring in the Grand Slam.

But, speaking at the Serbia Open on Wednesday, reigning Wimbledon men's singles champion and six-time winner Djokovic expressed his disagreement for the organisers' stance.

"I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war," Djokovic said.

"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."

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Djokovic, in action in the quarter-finals of the Serbian Open on Thursday, recovered from a set down to defeat compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic 4-6 6-3 6-3.

The world No 1 had survived a deciding tie-break against Laslo Djere on Wednesday and again found himself up against it against Kecmanovic before coming back from a break down in the second set to clinch a semi-final spot, where he will face either Karen Khachanov or Thiago Monteiro.

Sports Minister welcomes Wimbledon's 'decisive action'

Of the players now banned from competing at Wimbledon in June and July, Medvedev reached the fourth round of Wimbledon last year, while Sabalenka was a beaten semi-finalist.

I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good.
Novak Djokovic

Russian world No 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Belarus' Victoria Azarenka - a two-time Australian Open champion - will also miss out. Russian and Belarusian players have also been banned from LTA grass court tournaments this summer.

The All England Club said in a statement: "We share in the universal condemnation of Russia's illegal actions and have carefully considered the situation in the context of our duties to the players, to our community and to the broader UK public as a British sporting institution."

The statement went on to say: "If circumstances change materially between now and June, we will consider and respond accordingly."

Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, said: "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.

Daniil Medvedev Wimbledon 2021
Image: US Open champion Daniil Medvedev and other Russian and Belarusian players have been banned from Wimbledon

"We have very carefully considered the alternative measures that might be taken within the UK Government guidance but, given the high profile environment of The Championships, the importance of not allowing 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 at The Championships."

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston welcomed the "decisive action" taken by Wimbledon, saying: "The UK has taken a leading role internationally to make clear that President Putin must not be able to use sport to legitimise Russia's barbaric invasion of Ukraine.

"Whilst the withdrawal of individual athletes is a complex issue that will divide opinion, there is a bigger cause at stake.

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

Image: Elina Svitolina wants Russian and Belarusian players to speak out against the war in Ukraine

However, Ukraine's former world No 3 Elina Svitolina believes it is better for Russian and Belarusian players to speak out against the war in her homeland, with them being allowed to participate if they do so.

"The best way is not to ban them completely, but make them speak about the war in Ukraine, to ask them if they support the invasion in Ukraine, if they support the government," Svitolina told Sky News.

"And if they can answer those questions and if they say they that don't support it [the war], they don't support Putin, they don't support Lukashenko, then they would be allowed to participate."

WTA founder Billie Jean King express concerns over ban

Djokovic's stance mirrors that of the ATP and WTA, with both organisations releasing a statement on Wednesday expressing their concern over the ban.

WTA founder Billie Jean King said that the Grand Slam's decision was a "complex undertaking" amid the challenges and pressures they are facing but added she "cannot support" the move.

"One of the guiding principles of the founding of the WTA was that any girl in the world, if she was good enough, would have a place to compete," King said.

"I stood by that in 1973 and I stand by that today. I cannot support the banning of individual athletes from any tournament, simply because of their nationality."

To date, Russian and Belarusian athletes have been permitted to continue playing in ATP, WTA and ITF competitions as long as they do so under a neutral flag and with no anthem played.

An ATP statement read: "We strongly condemn Russia's reprehensible invasion of Ukraine and stand in solidarity with the millions of innocent people affected by the ongoing war.

"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.

Wimbledon Championships
Image: The Wimbledon Championships start on June 27

"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.

"It is important to stress that players from Russia and Belarus will continue to be allowed to compete at ATP events under a neutral flag, a position that has until now been shared across professional tennis.

"In parallel, we will continue our joint humanitarian support for Ukraine under Tennis Plays for Peace."

A WTA statement read: "The WTA strongly condemns the actions that have been taken by Russia and its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. We continue our humanitarian relief efforts to support Ukraine through Tennis Plays for Peace.

"We are, however, very disappointed in today's announcement by the AELTC and the LTA to ban individual athletes who are from Russia and Belarus from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events. A fundamental principle of the WTA is that individual athletes may participate in professional tennis events based on merit and without any form of discrimination.

"That principle is expressly set forth in our rules and has been agreed to by both AELTC and LTA. Prohibitions against discrimination are also clearly expressed in their own rules and the Grand Slam rules.

"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 continue to apply its rules to reject discrimination and ensure that all athletes are able to compete at our Tour events should they qualify to do so, a position that until today's announcement has been shared across professional tennis. The WTA will be evaluating its next steps and what actions may be taken regarding these decisions."

The Kremlin said on Wednesday a ban on Russian players would hurt Wimbledon itself given Russia's tennis prowess and was "unacceptable".

"Given that Russia is a strong tennis country the competitions [which take this decision] will suffer from this," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

"To make sportspeople hostages of political intrigue is unacceptable. I hope the players won't lose their fitness."

The Grand Slam begins on Monday, June 27 and concludes on Sunday, July 10.

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