The Wimbledon Championships began Tuesday without Russian or Belarusian players taking the grass courts because of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which started in February.
The invasion sparked a backlash against Russian and Belarusian athletes across the sports world. The All England Club, which organizes Wimbledon, decided to ban players from those countries from playing in the third major tennis tournament of the season.
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All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt explained to ESPN he didn’t want Wimbledon to be a place for players to spread propaganda nor did he want to “defy government guidance.”
“One was a route to consider having personal declarations from players and, frankly, we did not think that was the right approach for a tournament of our kind,” Hewitt said of his options. “We were not willing to put in jeopardy any safety of players, and we think that that route would have involved implications for players’ safety or safety of their families, which really left no other viable alternative.
“But also, it was very important to us that Wimbledon, given the profile that we have, should not be used in any way, by the propaganda machine which we know the Russian government employs in relation to its own people and how their position in the world is presented and that would be, we just would not countenance Wimbledon success or participation in Wimbledon being misused in that way.
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“So as a result of the combination of reasons, we were left with no viable alternative other than to decline entries. We hugely regret the impact on the individual players affected, but we also hugely regret the impact on so many innocent people which the tragic situation in Ukraine has caused.”
Hewitt added he was “disappointed” the ATP and the WTA stripped rankings points from the tournament.
Novak Djokovic, a six-time Wimbledon champion, spoke out about the decision in April, saying that while he will always condemn war, politics and sports should never mix.
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“I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon. I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good.”
Fox News’ Paulina Dedaj contributed to this report.