Russian tennis players used as ‘political hostages’ – Kremlin
Russian and Belarusian tennis players will become “hostages” to political forces if they are banned from Wimbledon this summer, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said.
Reports have claimed that tennis bosses at the grass court Grand Slam in London are set to announce a ban on players such as men’s world number two Daniil Medvedev because of the conflict in Ukraine.
That comes despite tennis authorities the ITF, ATP and WTA clearing stars from Russia and Belarus to continue to compete as neutrals at tour events.
Responding to the reports of a Wimbledon ban – which are as yet unconfirmed – Kremlin spokesman Peskov said it would be an entirely “unacceptable” step from the UK.
“Given that Russia is a strong tennis country... the competitions themselves will suffer from their removal,” said Peskov, according to R-Sport.
“And once again making athletes hostages of some kind of political prejudices, political intrigues and hostile actions towards our country – this is unacceptable,” Peskov added scathingly.
Elsewhere, former top-10 ace Andrei Chesnokov said stars such as Daniil Medvedev should sue Wimbledon organizers if they decide to ban Russians.
“If you are not allowed to compete Wimbledon, you must state the reason,” said Chesnokov, according to Match TV.
“Daniil Medvedev has a powerful American lawyer. He can sue and ask Wimbledon to compensate him for the money he could lose at Wimbledon. I think that Wimbledon should be put in its place.”
When asked if other players could boycott the tournament in a show of support, the 56-year-old Russian replied: “It won’t work. Everyone is yelling that politics is outside of sport. It has now been proven that politics is in first place, and sport is up the a**.”
Despite Chesnokov’s demands for legal recourse, as a private members’ club, Wimbledon organizers the All England Club would be able to take the step independently of the WTA and ATP, and reportedly without the threat of punishment.
The head of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpischev, said the organization was doing what it could to help players, but was effectively powerless.
“We can’t do anything. I think this decision is wrong, but there’s nothing to change: the owner is the master,” Tarpishchev told Sport-Express.
“The [Russian] Tennis Federation has already done everything it could. I don’t want to talk about this topic, everything I say will work against the athletes.
“From my words, it will only get worse for the athletes. We are working on this situation, that’s all I can say.”
The news of a looming ban for Russians and Belarusians – which it has been claimed could be confirmed on Wednesday – follows suggestions from UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston that athletes may have to sign a formal declaration denouncing any ties or support for Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to compete.
The chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), Scott Lloyd, had said at the weekend that the organization was in “complex” talks regarding Russian players with the All England Club and the British government.
A blanket ban would deprive the likes of Medvedev and fellow Russian men’s stars Andrey Rublev, Karen Khachanov and Aslan Karatsev from lining up at Wimbledon when the grass court showpiece gets underway on June 27.
Russian women’s star Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Belarusian aces Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka would also be among the big names to miss out.
Should it take the step, Wimbledon would go against the grain of allowing Russian and Belarusian players to compete on the tour as neutrals.
WTA chief Steve Simon told the BBC last month that he would be categorially against a ban.
“I don’t think you can just pick on the athletes,” said the American. “I’m hoping that we continue with the sanctions, we continue doing everything we can to get peace, but again these people are the innocent victims of that, and being isolated as a result of these decisions, I don’t think it’s fair.”
Organizers of the season’s second Grand Slam, the French Open, have given no indication that they will ban Russians and Belarusians from appearing at the clay court event when it begins on May 22.