Wimbledon shows a ‘lack of courage’ handing Putin a ‘win’

Wimbledon tennis chiefs have been accused of “handing Putin a victory” by allowing Russian players at this year’s tournament. Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba spoke out as he urged the UK government to ban players entering the country. That would exclude the likes of Russia’s Daniil Medvedev and Belarus’s Aryna Sabalenka.

The decision to allow them to play means the Princess of Wales, as patron of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, could be put in the awkward position of handing a winner’s trophy to a competitor from either country.

Writing exclusively in the Daily Express, Mr Kuleba accused tennis chiefs of “lacking courage” and asked what Vladimir Putin had changed to prompt the reversal of last year’s “noble” decision to ban his players.

Mr Kuleba also said his country felt “deceived” by the decision and warned that Russia and its ally Belarus would take it as a sign Western opposition to the invasion was beginning to “crumble”.

He said: “Last year, Wimbledon took the difficult but noble decision to bar competitors from Russia and Belarus. “[The] organisers deserve credit for doing the right thing. What has changed since? Not much…We should not hand Putin wins.”

And proposing the government refuses visas to players, he added: “If the Wimbledon organisers lack courage, official London could stand firm and shut the door.”

The All England Lawn Tennis Club announced its decision to allow Russian and Belarusian players at the end of last month.

Its move last year to ban players led to the Lawn Tennis Association being fined and world ranking points were removed from the championships.

The AELTC said its decision was made after discussion with the UK government, the LTA and international stakeholders.

The AELTC and LTA said if they had not changed their stance, the two main professional tennis tours, the men’s ATP and women’s WTA, would have cancelled their membership of the LTA.

As a result, Queen’s, Eastbourne and other British grass-court events would not have been staged.

AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt said last month: “We continue to condemn totally Russia’s illegal invasion…This was an incredibly ­difficult decision, not taken lightly or without a great deal of ­consideration for those who will be impacted.”

He added: “If circumstances change materially between now and the commencement of The Championships, we will consider and respond accordingly.”

Top Russian trio Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, and Daria Kasatkina are among those expected to play in the event from July 3 to July 16.

Belarusian women’s world number two Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open in January, is also now likely to compete.

Players and their support staff will have to sign neutrality declarations and refrain from displaying their national colours in any form.

Contraventions will result in fines or expulsion from the tournament. The decision also covers other British events, most notably tournaments at Queen’s and Eastbourne.

Outside Wimbledon and other British events, players have been able to compete on the game’s professional tours as neutrals – including in the other Grand Slams.

A spokesman for the LTA said: “Our position in support of the people of Ukraine remains unchanged, as does our concern around the two regimes deriving reputational and other benefits by seeking to associate themselves with players.

“We are aware that Russian and Belarusian players have played on the tours as neutrals.

“Taking these considerations together, we have agreed players and support staff who wish to take part in our events in 2023 will be required to sign neutrality declarations. This is in line with the UK Government’s guidance.

“There will also be zero-tolerance to any flags, symbols or other actions which support Russia, Belarus or the war from anyone in our venues, including players and spectators.”

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