Opinion: stop banning Russian tennis players


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Sophomore Richard Liang shares his thoughts on how banning Russian tennis players from competing is ineffective towards stopping the war in Ukraine.

In 1877, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet club hosted the first ever professional tennis tournament: Wimbledon. The inaugural tournament fielded 22 men who competed for a grand prize of 30 bucks. Almost a century and a half later, Wimbledon is now undoubtedly the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world—but despite its prestige, the renowned major is an outlier in modern professional tennis tournaments. 

On April 20, Wimbledon announced that it was barring all Russian and Belarusian players from competing in this year’s tournament because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The ban will prevent players such as former world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka and current No. 8 Andrey Rublev from competing in this year’s slam despite all three players openly denouncing the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. Rublev even wrote “No War Please” on a camera lens after advancing to the finals in Dubai this February. Wimbledon’s decision follows a growing trend of major sporting organizations punishing Russian players and teams for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The problem is, penalizing Russian athletes won’t do anything to end the war.

In the midst of World War II, the US and Great Britain began strategic bombing campaigns on Germany. These bombings intentionally targeted civilian populations as a means to destroy the German army’s morale and terrorize Nazi leaders into surrendering. Millions of innocent civilians perished in horrific firebombings, but German Chancellor Adolf Hitler did not cease his military operations nor his campaign to “cleanse” the world. It was only until his inevitable suicide that everything came to a halt.

So why do I mention Hitler? Well like Hitler, Putin is a delusional and egotistical authoritarian leader who has been brainwashed by conspiracies. Putin thoroughly believes that Western nations divided the “Russian” people apart, separating them into colonies after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The war in Ukraine is really Putin’s colonial war. It’s the start of his pseudo-nationalist movement to reunify what he views as the Russian people under one state. Putin isn’t going to stop; he never will.

The Russian economy is tumbling. The value of the ruble is dropping. Countless economic sanctions will stymie future economic rebuilding in Russia. The people of Russia are financially tormented, but Putin has not flinched. In fact, it seems that every time more sanctions are levied by the West, Putin is more determined to crush Ukraine. It started with cluster bombs, then 40-mile long convoys and now the Kremlin has threatened to unleash nuclear weapons. What makes Wimbledon think that Putin is going to stop this war because a few of his star athletes can’t compete?   

For Russian and Belarusian tennis players, Wimbledon’s ban is detrimental financially due to lost sponsorships and prize earnings, but, more importantly, Wimbledon’s stance forces these players to desert their nationalities. 

For top tennis players like Medvedev, Rublev and Azarenka, their nationality is their pride. Besides playing for the money and their families, top players compete to represent their homeland. Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the ATP and WTA protested by erasing the Russian and Belarusian flag from their system. Russian and Belarusian players are now forced to play under a neutral flag. While they are still able to participate in tournaments, players are clearly pained by the move. In the middle of her third round match at Indian Wells, Azarenka broke down into tears after seeing the blank space next to her name where her nation’s flag used to be. Azarenka would go on to delete her Twitter and Instagram accounts after the match.

What the ATP and WTA have done is a form of protest, but Wimbledon’s stance of banning Russian players from competing is downright discriminatory. Wimbledon has released a bunch of bogus statements defending their stance, but it has done nothing to quell the heat it has been receiving. Tennis players such as world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and the directors of the ATP and WTA alike have openly denounced Wimbledon’s ban. It is becoming increasingly evident that Wimbledon’s ban is meant to target an already vulnerable group of people so that it can make a face for itself.

It’s pointless for Wimbledon to put this war on the Russian people. Afterall, this isn’t their war; it’s Putin’s.