Wimbledon has been warned it could face legal action from the Belarusian Tennis Federation after it accused the All England Club of acting illegally by banning Russian and Belarusian players from this summer’s championships.
The BTF said it was consulting international law firms to “protect” its stars, including the two-time grand slam champion Victoria Azarenka and the world No 4, Aryna Sabalenka, as it condemned Wimbledon for inciting hatred with its decision.
“The Belarusian Tennis Federation categorically condemns the decision taken by the organisers of Wimbledon to suspend Belarusian and Russian tennis players,” it said. “Such destructive actions in no way contribute to the resolution of conflicts, but only incite hatred and intolerance on a national basis.
“Throughout the history of tennis, armed conflicts have occurred in the world – in Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Yugoslavia and other countries – but never until now have tournament organisers suspended athletes from the United States, Great Britain and other countries,” it added.
“Illegal decisions of international tennis organisations in relation to our athletes undermine the reputation of these organisations.”
It is understood that Wimbledon took legal advice before making its decision, which will significantly alter the makeup of the tournament given 17 of the Top 100 in the men’s and women’s rankings, including the world No 2, Daniil Medvedev, are from Russia or Belarus. However the BTF said it was still exploring ways to challenge it.
“At the moment, consultations of the BTF leadership with international law firms on sports law are ongoing and a strategy is being developed that is aimed at protecting, first of all, Belarusian tennis players around the world, and tennis in the Republic of Belarus as a whole,” it said.
Wimbledon’s decision has also been criticised by the ATP and WTA, which run the men’s and women’s tours, as well as Martina Navratilova and Novak Djokovic.
Navratilova, who won Wimbledon a record nine times between 1978 and 1990, called the move “wrong”, adding: “Exclusion like this, through no fault of these players, is not the way to go. Tennis is such a democratic sport it is difficult when you see politics destroy it.
Djokovic, meanwhile, said that while he understood the emotional trauma of war given Serbia’s history, he was also against the decision. “I think it is crazy,” he added. “When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good.”
But Wimbledon’s move was welcomed by the former Ukrainian star Alex Dolgopolov, who said it would make those in Russia understand its leaders were acting illegally.
“Wimbledon isn’t going to stop the war, it’s just an extra sign of the world condemning Putin,” he told the Independent. “The more of these signals, if it’s tennis or if it’s Fifa blocking them from football, it shows people that Russia is doing something wrong.”
Meanwhile three current Ukrainian tennis stars – Elina Svitolina, Marta Kostyuk and Sergiy Stakhovsky – have called on players from Russia and Belarus to denounce their government if they want to compete at international level.
“We noticed that some Russian and Belarusian players at some point vaguely mentioned the war, but never clearly stating that Russia and Belarus started it on the territory of Ukraine,” they said in a social media post. “The very silence of those who choose to remain that way is unbearable as it leads to the continuation of murder in our homeland.”
The players also called on the WTA, ATP and ITF to ask such players a series of questions about whether they supported the invasion of Ukraine and the regimes of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and Belarus’ leader, Alexander Lukashenko
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal, and that time is now,” they added.