The British government has been criticized for “interfering” with Russian athletes’ participation in Wimbledon this year by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.
The Lawn Tennis Association announced yesterday it had been fined one million US dollars (£820,000) by the ATP, the global governing body for the professional men’s game, for banning players from Russia and Belarus following the invasion of Ukraine.
It is understood that the LTA has also been threatened with expulsion from the ATP Tour if the ban is repeated in 2023.
Bach said Wednesday that his organization is working with international sports federations on how to “overcome the dilemma” of Russian athletes’ participation in events, opening the door for them to potentially compete in the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Wimbledon organizers made the decision to exclude Russian and Belarusian players earlier this year after considering guidance from the British government. Bach said on Wednesday that the British government’s position on Russian athletes was wrong and that such “political” decisions risked undermining international sport as a whole.
“We had Russian and Belarusian athletes participate in the US Open tennis. We have Russian athletes participating in the NHL. They are applauded by the fans, everyone is happy,” Bach said.
“On the other hand we had Wimbledon, the British government interfered and forced the Wimbledon organizers to exclude Russian and Belarusian players.
“This is the situation we are in and this is the situation we have to overcome so that international competitions can truly be comparable and can be fair and right for everyone.
“Governments should not decide on political grounds who participates in which sporting events.
“Qualification for sporting events must be based on sporting merits and not on political interference. This, among other things, against all the commitments that the British government and other governments – unfortunately they are not the only ones – have made in approving three or four UN resolutions in the last two years, and the last one on 1 December, where they say they respect the Olympic Charter, which is the political neutrality of the IOC, where they underline the conciliatory nature of sporting events and where they support the autonomy of sport.
“Making a decision, a political decision about a sports competition, is clearly not in line with these resolutions and these commitments and is not in line with the mission of international sport.
“If this continued, our sports competitions and the international sports system would disappear. Today it’s the turn of Russia and Belarus. Tomorrow it’s the next country’s turn and then the other countries come back with counter-sanctions.
“We must work towards our unifying mission, to stand up for athletes (and) to stand up for the international sports movement.”
The ATP and WTA have allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to continue competing as long as they do so under a neutral flag.
The WTA had previously fined the LTA and the All England Club for the Russian ban, which the LTA appealed against.
Culture secretary Michelle Donelan has urged the ATP and WTA to reconsider.
He said: “The UK has taken on a global leadership role in building this international response.
“We are clear that sport cannot be used to legitimize this deadly invasion and that athletes representing Russian or Belarusian states should be banned from competing in other countries.
“Despite widespread condemnation, international tennis tours are determined to be sidelined in this, with investment in the growth of our national game hampered as a result.
“This is the wrong move by the ATP and WTA. I urge them to think carefully about the message this sends and to reconsider.”
The LTA said it was evaluating its response to the ATP sanction and accused that body of a “lack of empathy” for the situation in Ukraine.
Bach insisted that sanctions against the Russian and Belarusian state, including a ban on holding sporting events there and displaying those countries’ national symbols, remained firmly in place.
The IOC executive council also recommended in February, following the Russian invasion, that international sports federations and event organizers should not invite or allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate.
Bach said consideration of ways to reinstate Russian athletes did not represent a change of position on the part of the IOC, insisting that the recommendation to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes was always seen as a “protective” measure to ensure their safety rather than a penalty.