By Julian Guyer (AFP)
British tennis chiefs said Wednesday they were “disappointed” at being fined $1 million by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for banning Russian and Belarusian players from their events.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban.
Russian and Belarusian players were eventually barred from all five ATP tournaments staged by the LTA, including the longstanding Queen’s Club event in London.
The All England Club, which organises Wimbledon, also banned them from competing at this year’s edition of tennis’ oldest Slam.
Both the ATP and the Women’s Tennis Association stripped Wimbledon of its ranking points in protest at a ban labelled “crazy” by 21-time Grand Slam title winner Novak Djokovic.
The WTA had also previously fined British tennis authorities a total of $1 million, split between a $750,000 punishment for the LTA and a $250,000 penalty for the All England Club.
It is also understood the LTA has been threatened with expulsion from the ATP Tour if it repeats the ban.
The LTA, responding Wednesday to the latest sanction, accused the ATP of a “lack of empathy” over the situation in Ukraine, saying in a statement: “The LTA is deeply disappointed with this outcome.
“The ATP, in its finding, has shown no recognition of the exceptional circumstances created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the international sporting community and UK Government’s response to that invasion.
“The ATP appear to regard this matter as a straightforward breach of their rules — with a surprising lack of empathy shown for the situation in Ukraine, and a clear lack of understanding of the unique circumstances the LTA faced.”
The statement added: “We will carefully consider our response and we await the outcome of our appeal against the WTA’s decision and sanction.”
The ATP insisted later Wednesday they had no intention of changing course.
“We stand by our original position on this matter, that unilateral decision-making by members of the ATP Tour threatens our ability to operate as a global sport,” a spokesman told AFP.
“We believe that the measures taken protect the long-term future of our game and its commitment to merit-based participation, without discrimination, for individual athletes.”
Earlier, the ATP received support from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who criticised the British government for politicising the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.
“Governments should not decide on political grounds who is participating in which sports events,” said Bach following an IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne.
“The qualification for sports events must be on sporting merits and not on political interference.”
Bach also accused the British government, and others, of going against the Olympic Charter — guarantor of the IOC’s political neutrality.
“To take a decision, a political decision, on a sports competition is clearly not in line with these resolutions and with these commitments and is not in line with the mission of international sports,” he said.
Michelle Donelan, the British government’s Culture Secretary, urged the ATP and WTA to reconsider their punishments.
“We are clear that sport cannot be used to legitimise this deadly invasion, and that athletes representing the Russian or Belarusian states should be banned from competing in other countries,” she said.
“Despite widespread condemnation, the international tennis tours are determined to be outcasts in this, with investment in the growth of our domestic game hampered as a result.”
Here are more stories related to tennis.