Novak Djokovic and Martina Navratilova have condemned the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from Wimbledon this year.
Tournament organisers have blocked competitors including men’s world number two Daniil Medvedev and women’s world number four Aryna Sabalenka following the invasion of Ukraine.
Djokovic, who was the centre of Covid-19 vaccination controversy earlier this year, has slammed the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s “crazy” decision.
The ITF recently banned Russia and Belarus from the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup. However, other players have been permitted to compete as neutrals on the ATP and WTA tours — without a national flag or having their national anthem played.
Now, more drastic measures are being taken and Wimbledon will become the first elite tennis event to outright prohibit Russian and Belarusian athletes.
The Lawn Tennis Association has also banned players from Russia and Belarus from competing in other grass-court tournaments in Britain.
Djokovic condemns Wimbledon ban
Djokovic discussed the ban while at the Serbia Open, where he is currently competing.
“I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war,” the 20-time Grand Slam champion said.
“I know how much emotional trauma it leaves. In Serbia we all know what happened in 1999. In the Balkans we have had many wars in recent history.
“However, 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.”
ATP and WTA bosses have spoken against the ban, stating it “has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game.”
Navratilova “devastated” over Wimbledon ban
Similarly, Navratilova has accused Wimbledon of letting politics “destroy tennis” during a recent interview.
The 18-time Grand Slam winner said she is “devastated” over the decision and admitted she was “close to tears” when she found out.
“Exclusion is not the way to go,” she 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 will get underway on June 27th and will run until July 10th, but without some of tennis’ most recognised stars.
AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt said: “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.”