(Reuters) -The world’s most prestigious tennis tournament was on Friday set on a collision course with the sport’s global governing bodies after Wimbledon had its ranking points stripped by the ATP and WTA Tours over excluding players from Russia and Belarus.
The move by the men’s and women’s tours will reduce Wimbledon to an exhibition event but the AELTC, organisers of the Grand Slam, repeated their stance that the ban was the only viable option under British government guidance.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) also said it will not grant ranking points to Wimbledon this year for junior and wheelchair tennis events.
The AELTC decision to impose the suspension on Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s championships due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is the first time players have been excluded on grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War Two era when German and Japanese players were banned.
The AELTC on Friday said they were considering their options and were in discussions with their Grand Slam colleagues.
“In addition, we remain unwilling to accept success or participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime,” the AELTC said in a statement.
“We therefore wish to state our deep disappointment at the decisions taken by the ATP, WTA and ITF in removing ranking points for The Championships.
“We believe these decisions to be disproportionate in the context of the exceptional and extreme circumstances of this situation and the position we found ourselves in, and damaging to all players who compete on Tour.”
The ATP and WTA have themselves banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion, which Moscow calls a ‘special operation’, but allowed players from the two countries to compete as neutrals.
“The ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination, is fundamental to our Tour,” the ATP said in a statement.
“The decision by Wimbledon to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing in the UK this summer undermines this principle and the integrity of the ATP Ranking system. It is also inconsistent with our Rankings agreement.
“Absent a change in circumstances, it is with great regret and reluctance that we see no option but to remove ATP Ranking points from Wimbledon for 2022.”
WTA chief Steve Simon said the tour believes athletes participating in an individual sport “should not be penalised or prevented from competing solely because of their nationalities or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.”
“The recent decisions made by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to ban athletes from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events violate that fundamental principle,” Simon said.
“As a result of the AELTC’s position that it will not honour its obligation to use the WTA Rankings for entry into Wimbledon and proceed with a partial field not based on merit, the WTA has made the difficult decision to not award WTA ranking points for this year’s Wimbledon Championships.”
Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian competitors has been slammed by top players such as 21-times Grand Slam champion Rafa Nadal who labelled it unfair, while world number one Novak Djokovic said he did not support the decision.
“Our rules and agreements exist in order to protect the rights of players as a whole. Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the Tour,” the ATP added.
“Discrimination by individual tournaments is simply not viable on a Tour that operates in more than 30 countries.
“We remain hopeful of further discussions with Wimbledon leading to an acceptable outcome for all concerned.
“More broadly, we believe this matter again highlights the need for a united governance structure across professional tennis so that decisions of this nature can be made in a joint manner.”
Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) also reciprocated the Wimbledon ban by excluding players from the two countries from its tune-up tour events.
However, the WTA said its tournaments at Nottingham, Birmingham, and Eastbourne would go ahead with ranking points on offer as “alternative and comparable playing and ranking point opportunities exist in the same weeks”.
The ATP had also said earlier this week that its events at Queen’s and Eastbourne will proceed as normal, offering full ATP ranking points.
While the LTA tournaments will continue to offer full ranking points, the British governing body is under review for sanctions from the ATP and WTA.
The ITF justified its decision not to award ranking points to Wimbledon this year for junior and wheelchair tennis events by saying it undermines the integrity of the competition.
“The ITF has determined that Wimbledon’s entry criteria banning Russians and Belarusians compromises the integrity of its international competition, in particular its ranking system, as there is a lack of alternative equivalent opportunities for players to compete for ranking points and prize money,” the ITF said.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai and Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)