Wimbledon: Billie Jean King "cannot support" ban of Russian players

Billie Jean King

Tennis legend Billie Jean King has revealed she “cannot support” a ban of Russian and Belarusian players at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon organisers announced earlier this week that players from the two countries would be prohibited from playing at this year’s Grand Slam, following the invasion of Ukraine in February.

It became the first elite tennis event to explicitly prohibit stars from Russia and Belarus from competing.

Neither the ATP or WTA have enforced a blanket ban at their events. Instead, players have been to compete in a neutral capacity, without displaying their national flag or having their national anthem played.

King, who formed the WTA in 1973, released a statement criticising Wimbledon’s decision to enforce a ban.

“The decision of the LTA and the AELTC regarding the Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s tournament was a difficult and complex undertaking, and I appreciate the challenges and pressures they are facing,” she wrote.

“One of the guiding principles of the founding of the WTA was that any girl in the world, if she was good enough, would have a place to compete. I stood by that in 1973 and I stand by that today.

“I cannot support the banning of individual athletes from any tournament, simply because of their nationality.

“Tennis is stronger when we stand together, and our continued support of the Tennis Plays for Peace initiative, which provides meaningful financial support and resources to Ukraine, needs to be our focus.”

The decision from the All England Club has also been slammed by Martina Navratilova and Novak Djokovic.

Former tennis world number three Elina Svitolina has not criticised the prohibition, but instead asked the WTA and ATP to ban Russian and Belarusian players who have failed to denounce the invasion of her home country.

“In times of crisis, silence means agreeing with what is happening,” she wrote. “There comes a time when silence is betrayal, and that time is now.”

A number of high-ranking tennis stars are now set to miss out on Wimbledon.

Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are the notable absentees from the men’s tournament, while their Russian teammates Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Daria Kasatkina and Veronika Kudermetova will miss the women’s event.

The ban on Belarusian players impacts world number four Aryna Sabalenka, who reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon last year.

Former world number one Viktoria Azarenka, who progressed to the last four at Wimbledon in 2011 and 2012, also misses out.

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