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.
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.
The International Tennis Federation, which operates separately from the tours, also announced that it was removing ranking points from the junior and wheelchair events at Wimbledon this year.
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.
“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 on Friday. “The decision by Wimbledon to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing in the U.K. this summer undermines this principle and the integrity of the ATP Ranking system. It is also inconsistent with our Rankings agreement. Absent a change in circumstances, it is with great regret and reluctance that we see no option but to remove ATP Ranking points from Wimbledon for 2022.”
Both tours condemned the invasion of Ukraine.
“The atrocities happening to millions of innocent people in Ukraine because of Russia’s unprovoked invasion are horrific and appalling,” the WTA said in its statement. “The WTA strongly condemns Russia’s ongoing attack. First and foremost, we want nothing more than for peace and the war in Ukraine to end. Nearly 50 years ago, the WTA was founded on the fundamental principle that all players have an equal opportunity to compete based on merit and without discrimination. The WTA believes that individual athletes participating in an individual sport should not be penalized or prevented from competing 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 ATP decision in a post on Twitter, calling it a “shameful day in tennis.”
The ATP’s and WTA’s move, made after extensive internal debate and despite pushback from players and pleas from Wimbledon officials, is expected to have little effect on the tournament’s bottom line. The world’s top men’s 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 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. And neither attendance nor news media coverage of Wimbledon is expected to dip. The winners will be considered legitimate Grand Slam champions.
But 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 take a strong stand against the ban on individual players in order 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 not been stripped of 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, including ranking points. But the ATP and WTA chose not to strip points from the British lead-in events because other tournaments located on the European continent were still open to Russian and Belarusian players during those three weeks of the grasscourt 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
Russia’s punishment of Finland. Russia will cut natural gas supplies to Finland on May 21, according to Finland’s state energy provider. Russia said that it was suspending the supply because Finland had failed to comply with its demand to make payments in rubles. Finland has also submitted an application to join NATO, angering Russia.
There was also the concern that without ranking points on offer, players would choose to withdraw from the British grasscourt 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 had come under pressure from the British government to act. The tournament opted for a ban after rejecting the 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. There was above all concern that signing such a declaration could put players or their families at risk and also concern that the option would not be available to all Russian and Belarusian competitors. Junior players, for example, are routinely funded by the Russian and Belarusian tennis federations and would thus have been unlikely to be eligible to sign.
But in announcing bans on individual athletes, Wimbledon and the British grass-court events remain outliers. No other tour event has followed their lead. Russian and Belarusian players, including the men’s No. 2, Daniil Medvedev of Russia, 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.
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. If the Wimbledon ban remains in place as expected, Russians and Belarusians will be able to take part in the grass-court season only by playing in events held outside Britain. Medvedev, for one, intends to do so, confirming on Friday in Paris that he would play for three straight weeks on grass before Wimbledon at tournaments in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, Halle in Germany and Majorca in Spain.
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.