News | June 2nd, 2022
CONTROVERSY ON COURT
Wimbledon. A name synonymous with prestige, respect and true British heritage. A tournament that hosts the absolute pinnacle for Tennis players, embracing a diverse community of exceptional professionals and tennis fanatics. Dating back to 1877, Wimbledon boasts a longevity unmatched by any other Tennis tournament, and with this brings a level of which all athletes long to be involved in, let alone become victorious.
The grass court season is imminently upon us, and with the All England Lawn Tennis Club preparing their courts for June 27th, recent news has provoked debate. Given the war between Russia and Ukraine, the club announced that both Russian and Belarusian players will no longer be able to participate. Subsequently, the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) and WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) announced that no ranking points would be on offer at Wimbledon. Essentially, this renders the tournament a friendly competition with nothing to gain but respect and kudos amongst fellow tennis athletes and the community alike.
Of course, winning Wimbledon is the ambition of any tennis lover. It is the most reputable and sought after Grand Slam of them all, and despite no professional status to gain but a trophy and a prize fund, I’m almost certain most athletes will still aim to excel in the competition.
However, there are a few key aspects which should be addressed. To begin with, the Professional Tennis Players Association was not consulted on this decision, with Novak Djokovic spearheading the disappointment believing the All England Lawn Tennis Club have let the independent players’ association down. This decision means that the likes of World No. 2 men’s player Medvedev of Russia and World No. 4 women’s player Sabalenka of Belarus are among the most high-profile athletes affected. Furthermore, key athletes who will miss their opportunity at Wimbledon include eighth-ranked men’s player Andrey Rublev from Russia, his compatriot World No. 15 women’s player Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and former World No. 1 Belarusian star Victoria Azarenka.
With the decision being taken without consulting the players association, let alone the individual athletes themselves who will miss out on the tournament, it is difficult to question the implications on a personal level for the players who have been affected. Moreover, no other organisation hosting any ATP and WTA tournament this year has prevented Russian and Belarusian players from participating, making Wimbledon the first to make this move.
Unfortunately, as is the case in tennis the much lower ranked players need every opportunity to improve their professional position. For example, in 2021 Novak Djokovic earned around $9 million whereas the 1000th ranked player earned a mere $4,273, meaning the huge pay gap puts an extraordinary pressure on the lower ranked athletes. Therefore, without the opportunity to gain ranking points, why would the athletes risk injury and further expenses to compete when they are unable to improve their ranking?
Interestingly, income at ATP Media, the ATP Tour’s international media rights sales and broadcast production arm, recovered close to $160.6m (€150m) in 2021 as a near-full tennis calendar took place. Following a 38.3-per-cent drop in 2020 amid a string of tournament cancellations prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, income rose by 86.5 per cent last year, according to recently lodged accounts. Perhaps this improved income could be better distributed amongst the athletes, yet this is a conversation for another time.
Ultimately, I believe there should be some consistency between tournaments and governing bodies as to the decision concerning Russian and Belarusian players participating on the circuit. On one side it can be viewed as unfair to those unable to compete, despite the arguably valid reasoning for this. However, this feud between the ATP and the All England Lawn Tennis Club is not beneficial for tennis, more specifically for the individual athletes and particularly the lower ranked professionals. As an avid tennis fan myself, we all want to witness a diverse, competitive and enthralling competition which lives up to its exceptional heritage, and the best way to achieve this is if the players association, ATP/WTP and Wimbledon all work in synergy.
Image – Getty