Tennis Tours Penalize Wimbledon Over Ban on Russian Players

PARIS — The men’s and women’s tennis tours responded to Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players on Friday by stripping the event of ranking points this year, the most significant rebuke to date of efforts by global sports organizations to ostracize individual Russian athletes as punishment for their country’s invasion of Ukraine.

It is a move without precedent in tennis, and without the points, Wimbledon, the oldest of the four Grand Slam tournaments, will technically be an exhibition event, bringing no ranking boost to those who excel on its pristine lawns this year.

“The ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination is fundamental to our Tour,” the ATP said in a statement, saying that the ban undermined its ranking system.

The International Tennis Federation, a governing body that operates separately from the tours, also announced it would remove ranking points from the junior and wheelchair events at Wimbledon this year.

Though Wimbledon, for now, is the only one of the four major tournaments to ban Russians and Belarusians, the power play by the tours could lead to countermeasures, including the possibility of Grand Slam events considering an alternative ranking system or aligning to make more decisions independently of the tours.

Organizers of Wimbledon, a grass-court tournament and British cultural institution that begins on June 27, announced the ban on Russian and Belarusian players last month in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which was undertaken with the support of Belarus. Other British grass-court tournaments that are staged in June, including the Wimbledon prep events at Eastbourne and at Queen’s Club in London, have announced similar bans.

So have sports as diverse as soccer, auto racing, track and field and ice hockey. Russia has been stripped of the hosting rights to events and has seen its teams ejected from major competitions like soccer’s World Cup. But only a few sports, notably figure skating and track and field, have barred individual athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing.

Both tours condemned the invasion of Ukraine but argued that individual athletes should not be prevented from competing, in the words of WTA chief executive Steve Simon, “solely because of their nationalities or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.”

But Sergiy Stakohvsky, a recently retired Ukrainian men’s player now in the Ukrainian military, expressed bitterness at the decision, calling it a “shameful day in tennis” in a post on Twitter.

Standing by its ban, Wimbledon expressed “deep disappointment” and said stripping points was “disproportionate” in light of the pressure it was under from the British government.

The ATP’s and WTA’s move was made after extensive internal debate and despite considerable pushback from players. A sizable group of men’s and women’s players was gathering support for a petition in favor of retaining Wimbledon’s points before the tours made their announcements. But removing the points is expected to have little effect on the tournament’s bottom line.

The world’s top players who are not from Russia and Belarus are still expected to participate. Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1 men’s player from Serbia and a six-time Wimbledon champion, made it clear on Sunday after winning the Italian Open in Rome that he would not support skipping the event in protest even if he remained against the decision to bar the Russian and Belarusian players.

“A boycott is a very aggressive thing,” Djokovic said. “There are much better solutions.”

This year’s Wimbledon champions will still play in front of big crowds, lift the same trophies hoisted by their predecessors and have their names inscribed on the honor roll posted inside the clubhouse of the All England Club. They will be considered Grand Slam champions although it remains unclear whether Wimbledon will maintain prize money at its usual levels.

Stripping points will have consequences on the sport’s pecking order. Daniil Medvedev, a Russian ranked No. 2, is now in excellent position to displace No. 1 Novak Djokovic after Wimbledon because Djokovic’s 2,000 points for winning Wimbledon last year will come off his total without being replaced. Medvedev, who reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon last year, will only lose 180 points.

The leadership of the ATP, including its player council, which includes stars like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, ultimately decided that it was important to dissuade tournaments from barring players — now or in the future — based on political concerns.

“How do you draw the line of when you ban players and when you don’t?” Yevgeny Kafelnikov, a Russian and a former No. 1 singles player, said in a telephone interview from Moscow.

Unlike Wimbledon, the lead-in events in Britain have retained their ranking points despite being formally part of the tours. Wimbledon, as a Grand Slam event, operates independently but does have agreements with the tours on many levels. But the ATP and WTA chose not to strip points from the British lead-in events because other European tournaments were still open to Russian and Belarusian players during those three weeks of the season. The WTA did announce that it was putting the British tour events in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne on probation because of the ban.

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments

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Russia’s economy. Russia’s central bank cut interest rates again, in the latest effort by Moscow to try to stabilize its economy, which has been harmed by sanctions and months of fighting in Ukraine. The move came as President Vladimir V. Putin promised to increase the minimum wage and military benefits.

Russian oil ban. The European Union has stalled on its proposed ban on Russian oil. The measure is being held up by Hungary’s refusal to back the embargo, claiming it would devastate the country’s economy.

On the ground. Moscow’s military has narrowed its focus to a 75-mile-wide sliver of land in the heart of the eastern Donbas region, which has allowed Russian forces to make incremental gains. Russia’s main immediate target remains Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost city still under Ukrainian control.

There was also concern that without ranking points on offer, players would choose to withdraw from the British grass-court tournaments. Wimbledon, with its huge prize money and prestige, is unlikely to experience such withdrawals even without points, but there could still be some attrition.

Wimbledon opted for a ban after rejecting the British government’s suggestion that Russian and Belarusian players provide “written declarations” that they were not representing their countries; that they were not receiving state funding or sponsorship from companies with strong links to the Russian state; and that they had not and would not express support for the invasion of Ukraine or their countries’ leadership.

A few Russian men’s players had expressed willingness to Wimbledon to sign such a declaration and even donate their prize money to Ukrainian causes, but that was only a small number of the players concerned and Wimbledon was still worried that signing such a declaration could put players or their families at risk . It also expressed concern that Russian players taking part in Wimbledon might “benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime.”

However, some Russian and Belarusian nationals could still receive accreditation at Wimbledon this year as player guests or members of player support teams if they sign a declaration and meet other criteria such as not having a high media profile that could be used for propaganda purposes.

For now, Wimbledon and the British grass-court events remain outliers. No other tour event has followed their lead. Russian and Belarusian players, including tMedvedev and the women’s No. 7, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, are set to take part in the French Open, the next Grand Slam tournament on the schedule, when it starts on Sunday. The United States Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open that will be played after Wimbledon, called for the tours to reconsider and reinstate Wimbledon’s points but has made no move on banning Russians and Belarusians, whose citizens, it should be noted, continue to play for clubs in the National Hockey League.

After the war in Ukraine began in February, professional tennis moved quickly to bar Russia and Belarus from team events such as the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup, both of which were won by Russia in 2021. The tours and the International Tennis Federation also canceled tournaments scheduled to be played in Russia and Belarus later this year, including the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. The I.T.F. suspended the countries’ tennis federations from its membership as well.

But Russian and Belarusian players were allowed to keep competing on tour as individuals, albeit without any national identification. There are no flags or countries listed next to their names on scoreboards, in draws or in the tour’s official computer rankings.

No Russian or Belarusian player has indicated publicly that they intend to take legal measures against Wimbledon to seek entry into the tournament. Medvedev made it clear that he would not even though he agreed that there might be room for such an appeal.

“I’m not going to go to court for this one,” Medvedev said.

But legal action by other players cannot be ruled out even if Wimbledon officials carefully studied the legal options before announcing the ban.