MIKE DICKSON: Tennis should be ashamed as Ukraine loses a friend

MIKE DICKSON: Tennis should be ASHAMED as Ukraine loses a friend after Wimbledon lift ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes despite no change to the ongoing invasion

  • Wimbledon look set to abandon  ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus 
  •  It is a decision brought up by a surprisingly firm position by the WTA and ATP 
  • Little has changed since last summer with Russia continuing to invade Ukraine

There may have to be a collective holding of the nose around Centre Court this summer if, as remains possible, a Russian claims some silverware at Wimbledon. Or, perhaps more likely, a Belarusian in the form of Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka.

Whatever has been going on in the wider world, tennis players from the nations conspiring to pulverise Ukraine have been doing perfectly nicely these last 12 months. Wrapped up, as ever, in its itinerant bubble, the professional game has been content to look the other way.

In a deeply awkward retreat, Wimbledon look set to formally abandon last year’s stance of banning those from the aggressor countries. It is a pragmatic rather than noble decision, brought about by a surprisingly firm and united position taken by the WTA and ATP Tours, members’ organisations which seek to defend their number from the sins of their governments.

The Princess of Wales, patron of the All England Club, has been kept abreast of developments. You wonder, should there be a potentially embarrassing finalist come early July, if she might find herself with another pressing engagement.

When Wimbledon took their principled stand less than a year ago, the All England Club did not expect to find themselves so isolated by the rest of the world game. Bar the odd Baltic nation, they found themselves largely friendless at SW19 — stripped of the ranking points which give tournaments credibility.

The All England Club imposed the ban last year in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev is among those who would be allowed to compete if the ban lifted 

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus won the Australian Open and would be a contender for Wimbledon

If anything, the tours have hardened their position since. Not only is there the repeat threat of Wimbledon being pointless, there is the additional danger of other UK tournaments having their licenses put on the market and sold overseas, as Sportsmail revealed last month. Faced with this, the British game has opted for a climbdown as the least-worst scenario.

That it has come to this does not reflect well on tennis, whose official channels unquestioningly celebrated Daniil Medvedev winning recent tournaments in the Middle East. The WTA, in particular, appear to care little about the feelings of their traumatised Ukrainian members. One of them, Marta Kostyuk, won an event in Texas last weekend and refused to shake her Russian opponent’s hand.

Such scenes are entirely possible at SW19 this summer, not to mention other protests at what is such a high-profile event. Sabalenka, who has a genuine title chance on the grass, had her Melbourne victory very publicly toasted by Belarus’ dictator Alexander Lukashenko. 

Any U-turn on last year’s ban would come despite Russia continuing to invade Ukraine

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk refused to shake the hand of her Russian opponent in Texas

The tours could have been more sensitive to all this and reached some accommodation on points with Wimbledon last year.

A smidgeon of comfort for the AEC and their friends in the Government is that the Russian and Belarusian players have been very careful to remain neutral in the past 12 months, fearful themselves and keen not to jeopardise their opportunities.

Wimbledon have not always helped themselves, notably in their communication with other bodies. Yet beyond that, the most difficult question to answer is what has changed since last summer? One prominent tennis nation continues to invade another, thousands perish. While a very small strand of a ghastly situation, it feels like Ukraine has lost a principled friend.

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