TIME FOR TENNIS TO STAND AS ONE


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When dealing with sensitive matters, it is important for sport to take a united approach on how to handle the issue.


That is exactly the position tennis needs to take in a too often inconsistent sporting world.


News came through last week that arguably the most prestigious of the four majors, the Wimbledon championship, had made the decision to ban athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing in this year’s event.


So far, they are the only significant tournament, and certainly the only major to have made that decision.


The French Open which is held only weeks earlier has not made the same call, nor have recent tour-level matches in the United States and throughout Europe.


The debate about whether the decision is right or wrong is a different one, and one that I think has two equally valid arguments.


On one hand, banning a nation’s athletes from competing in a major sporting event is not a new concept, nor is unjustified.


Take the South African situation from the early 1970’s to the early 1990’s when due to the Apartheid era, athletes from South Africa were barred from competing in major sporting competitions such as international cricket.


The idea of sending a message to a nation that you can’t carry on with business as usual, because of the actions your country have undertaken that are in clear breach of common decency, is a perfectly valid one. But on the other hand, to suggest it is unfair on the players themselves is absolutely correct as well.


The decision can be both correct and unfair at the same time, but as mentioned that is a very different debate.


Tennis is a unique sport where you have tournaments in every country run under different jurisdictions, and separate governing bodies policing the men’s and women’s tour.


The Peng Shuai situation is a classic example of the need for a united front. The WTA was strong and forthright in their position, releasing firm and direct statements as they took an active approach to addressing a situation of significant concern.


The position of the ATP on the matter was far softer and far more “diplomatic”.


In situations of human welfare, they needed to stand behind the WTA and reiterate their statement in the strongest possible way. This wasn’t a time for fence sitting, just as the current issue in the Ukraine isn’t.


On Wednesday December 1, the WTA suspended all tournaments in China. The ATP simply had to do the same immediately and they did not.


The suggestion these are two different leagues running simultaneously should be considered absurd.


Turning our attention to the Ukraine issue, it was announced last week by Wimbledon that athletes from Russia and Belarus would not be permitted to take part, even under a neutral flag as has been in the case in the Olympic games of late due to Russian doping violations.


Wimbledon’s statement outlined the position:


“Given the profile of The Championships in the United Kingdom and around the world, it is our responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of Government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible.

In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships.

It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022.”

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) released this statement last month outlining their position with no ban currently in place.


"We will impose strict neutrality on Russian and Belarusian players," said the FFT's director general Amelie Oudéa-Castera, but added, "We adhere to the EU sports ministries and the countries around us... individual athletes are only banned if they are selected by their countries."


As it stands, we have Russian teams banned from competing in events such as the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cups, but individual players are not banned on either the ATP or WTA singles/doubles tour, except for Wimbledon.

Should tournaments be allowed to go rogue and make their own decisions? Or do the key bodies within the sport need to get together and make a position very clear and consistent across the board?


My belief is yes they do, because partial bans and inconsistent penalties do little to impact the country you are seeking to punish.


Missing one event, even as big as Wimbledon can be brushed over by the officials in Russia. A blanket ban on the other hand cannot.


If it’s a one off, as it is in this instance, it raises accusations of discrimination given it clearly does not match the position of the broader tennis governing bodies, of which there are many.

FIFA has banned Russia and Belarus from competing in the 2022 Qatar World Cup, Formula One suspended their scheduled race in Russia, Rugby Union’s chief’s banned Russia and Belarus from international competition.


In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, World Athletics' governing body has now banned "all athletes, support personnel and officials from Russia and Belarus" from participation in "all World Athletics Series events for the foreseeable future, with immediate effect".


It has also banned Belarus from hosting European and World events.


Cycling's governing body (UCI) has banned Russian or Belarusian national teams from taking part in any event on the calendar.


The UCI said it would not consider any team applications or requests to host events from those nations.


Swimming's governing body FINA has taken away an award given to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014 and "until further notice" no athlete or official from Russia or Belarus can participate in an event and represent their country. They can only be accepted at events as neutral athletes.


World Rowing has banned Russian and Belarusian athletes as well.


Volleyball's world governing body (FIVB) has cancelled the men's World Championships which were due to be held in Russia in August and September.


The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) has confirmed that Russian teams and officials will not be allowed to participate in FIBA basketball and 3x3 basketball competitions.


In the case of tennis there are some bans in place for individual events and team specific competitions, but no such bans exist in other spaces.


We can debate all day about whether bans are right or wrong, but it needs to be one in all in. Banned or not banned.


We can’t have a situation where it’s different from tournament to tournament, especially when dealing with majors.


If you want to send a message, send one together. If you don’t, get yourselves on the same page.