Aussie nice guy John Millman has been slammed as he joined Novak Djokovic in voicing his opinion on Wimbledon’s Russia ban.
Tennis is a sport in disarray as the world reacted to Wimbledon’s sensational ban on Russian athletes.
The world’s most prominent tennis tournament announced on Thursday morning Russian and Belarusian players are banned from the 2022 tournament in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
The ATP and WTA hit back immediately by branding the move “unfair” and “very disappointing”.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), which runs Wimbledon, said it was acting to “limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible”.
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Russian men’s world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and Belarusian female world No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka — a Wimbledon semi-finalist last year — are the leading players affected by the ban.
Wimbledon also announced it has torn up its broadcast deal with a Russian television partner. Russian fans will not be able to watch the tournament.
Even the Russian players who have denounced Russia’s military action, including world No. 8 Andrey Rublev, have been banned.
The tennis world has gone into meltdown following the announcement with the sport completely divided about the decision. Novak Djokovic was one of the first to controversially declare the decision should be overturned.
Players from Russia and Belarus have been able to compete on the ATP and WTA tours since the war in Ukraine started, but they were not allowed to use their national flags.
The ITF had already banned both countries’ teams from the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup.
ATP Tour and WTA Tour bosses claim the Wimbledon ban is discriminatory and sets a damaging precedent.
Aussie John Millman has now become one of the central figures in the backlash to the decision after he expressed frustration about the decision.
“I feel like Ukraine would be better served if Wimbledon donated their entire profit in support aid instead of banning the Russian and Belarusian players,” he tweeted.
Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk though disagreed with Millman’s take, replying: “Ukraine needs peace and freedom that we are dying for right now. Not money. Anyone who thinks that decision like this one is targeting players personally is pretty selfish. Players are great part of propaganda and big example to their fans. Silence is a betrayal.”
Millman responded by tweeting: “Maybe I could have gotten my message across more clearly. I’m in total support of Ukraine and its people. I just feel like Wimbledon is doing this more for their own gain, for good optics rather than to actually help. I pray for your family.”
Kostyuk responded by posting: “(Wimbledon) Definitely didn’t get any gain so far and is facing a lot of difficulties. Nothing personal, but I hope other tournaments will act the same. Unless players speak out. Thank you”.
Ukrainian tennis players Elina Monfils and Lesia Tsurenko also spoke out on social media in support of the total ban.
Djokovic slams ‘crazy’ decision
Djokovic said after his win at the Serbian Open on Thursday it was never good when sport becomes involved in political matters.
“I will always be the first to condemn the war,” the 20-time grand slam champion said.
“As a child of war, I know what kind of emotional trauma a war leaves. Us in Serbia we know what was happening here in 1999, ordinary people always suffer – we’ve had lots of wars in the Balkans.
“That being said, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy.
“The players, the tennis players, the athletes have nothing to do with it (war). When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good.”
Russian world number 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus are two of the other top female players who will miss the grass-court Grand Slam.
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova also claimed Wimbledon was letting politics “destroy tennis” in an emotional interview on LBC Radio.
Speaking from personal experience, having renounced her Czech nationality in 1975 at the height of the Cold War to take US citizenship, Navratilova said she was “almost in tears” at the decision.
“Exclusion is not the way to go,” a “devastated” Navratilova said.
“And as much as I feel for the Ukrainian players and Ukrainian people… I think this is just going further than [the AELTC] needed to be going, quite frankly. I think it’s the wrong decision. It’s unfair to the whole world. There’s so much bad going on. I think this is not helpful.
“I understand the banning of teams, of course, but on an individual level, I just think it’s wrong.”
Wimbledon is breaking its own rules
There are suggestions the professional tennis tours and Wimbledon could be about to go to war over revelations the tournament has broken its own charter by banning Russian players.
The ATP Tour said its agreement with the tournament has been breached under its rules for discrimination.
“We believe that today’s unilateral decision by Wimbledon and the LTA to exclude players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s British grass-court swing is unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game,” an ATP statement said.
“Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP Rankings.
“Our sport is proud to operate on the fundamental principles of merit and fairness, where players compete as individuals to earn their place in tournaments based on the ATP Rankings.”
The rules clearly state the ban against an entire country violates the tournament’s own rules.
The WTA said the decision was “neither fair nor justified”.
“We are very disappointed in today’s announcement,” the WTA said in a statement. “A fundamental principal of the WTA is that individual athletes may participate in professional tennis events based on merit and without any form of discrimination.”
Russia reacts with fury over ban
Wimbledon, the most high-profile of tennis’s four Grand Slam events, runs from June 27 to July 10 this year.
At present, Russian and Belarusian players are still able to compete at the French Open, which starts in May.
Wimbledon chiefs spoke to the British government earlier in April to discuss whether they should follow a similar policy to the men’s and women’s circuits.
“We recognise that this is hard on the individuals affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime,” AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt said.
The AELTC statement added that the ban would be reconsidered if circumstances “change materially” between now and June.
Russia reacted angrily to the reports, deeming it “unacceptable”. “Once again they simply turn athletes into hostages to political prejudice, political intrigues,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“This is unacceptable. Taking into account that Russia is a very strong tennis country, our athletes are at the top of world rankings, the competition itself will suffer from their removal.” The United States Tennis Association (USTA) acknowledged “the difficult decision made by the All England Club”.
“At this time, the USTA has not made a decision regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players at the 2022 US Open.”
— with AFP