WTA president Steve Simon warned Wimbledon that they face “strong reactions” to their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players and the week ahead could see more twists in the controversy which has split tennis.
The All England Club (AELTC) said they had decided to bar the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
On Tuesday, the AELTC will hold its annual Wimbledon event launch where the saga will dominate the agenda.
Meanwhile, ATP and WTA officials are expected to meet on the sidelines of the Madrid Open from next week to discuss their response to the crisis.
As the Grand Slam tournaments are autonomous, possible sanctions by the ATP and the WTA could include a refusal to award ranking points at the June 27-July 10 Grand Slam tournament.
That could reduce Wimbledon to the status of a high-profile exhibition event.
The ATP does not seem inclined to take legal action, while according to French daily L’Equipe, which obtained an email sent by the WTA to its players, the body is studying “the actions that you (the players) could take according to the Grand Slam regulations”.
“I do think that you’ll see some strong reactions that will come from us but what those are and how far they’ll go is still to be determined,” Simon told The Tennis Podcast at the weekend.
“We don’t have the same jurisdiction over the Grand Slams as we do over our own sanctioned events.”
– ‘Soft power’ –
There are three potential avenues of action, Tatiana Vassine, a lawyer in sports law, told AFP.
They lie in discrimination based on nationality, an attack on the freedom to work and the right to equal treatment.
“It’s a measure which it seems applies only to tennis players — other professionals of Russian and Belarusian nationality are able to continue their professional activity on English soil,” she said.
However, she believes that Wimbledon is only at the “declaration of intent” stage.
“We must not underestimate the ‘soft power’ of sport,” she said.
The ATP and WTA have already described the ban as “unfair” and “very disappointing”.
World number one Novak Djokovic said it was “crazy”, Rublev blasted the move as “complete discrimination” while the Belarus Tennis Federation believes the ban will “incite hatred”.
Wimbledon also faces the charge of double standards.
They excluded German and Japanese players for several years after World War II while South African players were allowed to play during the apartheid era.
“People take the position that sports and politics shouldn’t match and shouldn’t be intertwined, but that’s not the reality,” Simon added.
“At times sports does cross into politics and here is a situation where politics is crossing into sports. It is real life.
“The one thing that this sport has always agreed upon was that entry into our events has always been based upon merit and without discrimination.”
Rublev, who famously scribbled “No war please” on a TV camera lense at a Dubai tournament in February, suggested a more positive way forward for Wimbledon — donate prize money which last year totalled £35 million ($45.6 million).
“Banning Russian or Belarusian players….will not change anything,” said the 24-year-old world number eight.
“To give all the prize money to humanitarian help, to the families who are suffering, to the kids who are suffering, I think that would do something.
“It will be Wimbledon who take all the glory.”
At the moment, players representing Russia and Belarus are allowed to take part in ATP and WTA events but are barred from competing under the name or flag of their countries.
Their national teams have, however, been banished from the Davis Cup and BJK Cup competitions.
Some Ukraine players have not been convinced by opposition to the Wimbledon ban.
“That man is not interested in what is happening in his own country,” tweeted Lesia Tsurenko, a former top 25 player, in response to Rublev’s accusations of discrimination.
“He also is not interested in what is happening in the neighbouring country. What an abyss between our states and people, that I have not noticed for so long! I so regret it. I was blind.