The men’s tennis tour responded after Wimbledon organizers barred Russian and Belarusian players.
Men’s tennis tour the ATP has criticized the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s Wimbledon tournament, describing the step as “unfair” and suggesting it was discriminatory.
Officials at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) – which organizes the grass court Grand Slam showpiece – confirmed on Wednesday that Russian and Belarusian stars would not be welcome at the event, claiming “it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships.”
The UK’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) also announced it was barring Russian and Belarusian players from any tournaments this summer to show “that British tennis is delivering a consistent approach across all events.”
But that stance has been strongly criticized in a statement by the ATP. The organization reiterated its opposition to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but stated that “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,” it said.
“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 the aftermath of Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine, the ATP and women’s WTA had both allowed Russian and Belarusian players to continue to compete on their tours under neutral status.
The WTA has yet to comment on the Wimbledon ban, but chief executive Steve Simon said last month that he would be strongly against such a step.
As the All England Club is a private members’ club, it has been suggested that Wimbledon organizers are able to act independently of the ITF, ATP and WTA. That also reportedly ensures it will be protected from any legal repercussions.
It had already been widely reported before Wednesday’s news that a ban on Russian and Belarusian players was in the works.
UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston declared last month that even if Russian and Belarusian players were permitted to play, they would be required to formally denounce any support for President Vladimir Putin or ties to the Russian government.
Over the weekend, LTA chief executive Scott Lloyd confirmed that the organization was in “complex” talks with the All England Club and the British government regarding Russian and Belarusian participation.
As things stand, the ban would deprive the likes of Russian men’s top-10 stars Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev from appearing at SW19, as well as big-name Belarusian women’s players Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka.
Commenting before the ban was confirmed, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would make tennis players “hostages” to politics.
“Given that Russia is a strong tennis country, the competitions themselves will suffer from their removal,” said Peskov.
“And once again making athletes hostages of some kind of political prejudices, political intrigues and hostile actions towards our country – this is unacceptable.”
The French Open, which is the second Grand Slam of the year and begins in May, has said it has no plans to bar Russian or Belarusian players from competing, and would operate based on ATP and WTA policy to allow them to appear as neutrals.