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Why Wimbledon is an ‘exhibition’ instead of a Grand Slam this year

Taking a stand against Russia has completely altered this year’s tournament.


Wimbledon has long existed as the biggest prize in tennis. On paper, the British major is simply one of four Grand Slam events, but the summer grass event continues to have the gravitas which elevates it to something more. However, recent world events have led to a controversy which has now turned Wimbledon into an “exhibition,” stripping it of rankings points and undermining the event.

We were left wondering who would compete this year at Wimbledon, how the demotion to an exhibition would impact the event, and why a seemingly obvious decision by the Wimbledon Championships has met been met with such ire by those inside the sport.

What did Wimbledon do?

On April 20 the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, who host Wimbledon, announced that players from Russia and Belarus would be banned from competing at The Championships due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The decision followed bans to Russian teams by FIFA, preventing them playing in the 2022 World Cup, as well as FIBA, who similarly banned Russia. However, the Wimbledon decision was different in two key ways: Firstly, this was a decision affecting individual athletes, rather than a national team, and secondly it included Belarus, who had previously avoided the ire of international sport.

In 1999 Belarus made an agreement to form a “Union State” with Russia, unifying the nation’s goals are working together. They have been a key Russia ally to launch offensives over the border to Ukraine’s north, and their leader, Alexander Lukashenko has largely been a key ally of Vladimir Putin’s.

In a statement the All England Club said it believed banning players from the event was critical to supporting wider efforts of the United Kingdom and Europe.

“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.”

The decision marks only the second time players would be excluded from Wimbledon on the basis of nationality. The only other time this provision was invoked was during World War II, in which players from Germany and Japan were barred from competing.

Who decided the Grand Slam would become an “exhibition” and what does it mean?

Immediately following notice of the ban, both the ATP (governing men’s rankings) and WTA (presiding over women’s rankings) condemned the decision by the All England Club for targeting players from Russia and Belarus on the basis of nationality.

The ATP called Wimbledon’s decision “unilateral,” and was upset they weren’t consulted prior to the ban. In response a statement from The ATP Tour claimed the decision to ban players was against their charter.

“Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP Rankings.”

The WTA echoed the statement.

“Individual athletes should not be penalized or prevented from competing due to where they are from, or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.”

Both the ATP and WTA announced they would be stripping the 2022 Wimbledon Championships of any ranking points, effectively meaning that winning or losing the event would have no effect on global tennis. As a result the current plan is to have Wimbledon exist as an exhibition for the glory of winning the event, but with a huge asterisk — especially with deciding to withdraw from the event as a result.

It’s being called a “lose-lose” decision

There’s not really a right or wrong answer when it comes to banning players from nations involved in the invasion. Wimbledon is correct that banning Russian and Belarusian players from the tournament adds to mounting global pressure and sanctions against Putin’s unilateral invasion of Ukraine.

On the other hand, the ATP and WTA have a mandate from its playing members to protect their rights — and in doing so, views supporting Wimbledon’s ban of players based on nationality as setting a dangerous precedent. These kind of slippery slope arguments are often tenuous at best, but there is a fair point to be made about punishing individual players who aren’t necessarily competing for Russia or Belarus, but themselves.

John McEnroe and Tim Henman disagreed on the decision. The former players, turned broadcasters acknowledged the difficulty of the situation. It should be noted that Henman is a member of the committee that reached the decision on banning players from Russia and Belarus.

It’s led to a situation where some players chose to skip Wimbledon all together, simply not seeing the value of competing when there aren’t any ranking points on the line. It doesn’t make the tournament any less important to most player, but the shine is definitely off for a lot of them.

The French Open allowed Russian players. Now to see if other majors will follow Wimbledon’s suit and risk losing players as a result.