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WTA Icons Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King join chorus of opposition against Wimbledon ban

A pair of WTA legends has spoken out against Wimbledon’s controversial ban of Russians and Belarusians. They join a growing number of players and pundits that think the AELTC has gone too far.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King with the trophy for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals Tennis legend Billie Jean King with the trophy for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals Image Credit: Imago / Panoramic

Ex-players, current players and pundits continue to oppose Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s Championships. Billie Jean King, pioneer, activist and founder of the WTA Tour, as well as Martina Navratilova, joined the ATP and WTA Tours in expressing their belief that Wimbledon has overstepped its bounds.

Tennis as a whole is united in supporting Ukraine as it is being subjected to Russia’s brutal invasion, but not everyone agrees on how to treat the players from Russia and Belarus. Ukrainian players have come out in firm support of Wimbledon’s decision, while others believe that the athletes shouldn’t be punished so severely for a government they have no say in.

King – tennis is stronger when we stand together

Billie Jean King took to social media to express her views on the subject on Thursday, a day after Wimbledon announced its ban.

“One of the guiding principles of the founding of the WTA was that any girl in the world, if she was good enough, would have a place to compete,” King said. “I stood by that in 1973 and I stand by that today. I cannot support the banning of individual athletes from any tournament, simply because of their nationality.

“Tennis is stronger when we stand together, and our continued support of the Tennis Plays for Peace initiative, which provides meaningful support and resourcdes to Ukraine, needs to be our focus.”

Navratilova – Wimbledon has gone too far

Nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova became emotional during an interview with LBC Radio in Great Britain, saying that the situation sparks memories of her defection from her Czech homeland in September of 1975.

“The Russian and Belarusian players, some have even expressed, vocalized, their opposition to the war,” she said. “The only option therefore now for them to play would be to leave their country. That’s something that I had to do in 1975, because of a totalitarian regime and now we are asking them to do the same, because of politics, because of optics.”

The 18-time major champion holds out hope that Wimbledon’s decision is a “one-off.” She hopes that other tennis entities don’t follow suit.

“Exclusion like this, through no fault of these players, is not the way to go … I think it’s the wrong decision,” she said in the interview. “Tennis is such a democratic sport. It is difficult when you see politics destroy it. And as much as I feel for the Ukrainian players and the Ukrainian people — it’s just horrific what’s going on — I think this is just going further than needed.

“The Russian and Belarusian players, some have even expressed, vocalised, their opposition to the war. As a player growing up, this is the one you dream about the most. And now because of politics not to be able to play, unless you denounce your country and leave, and risk your family’s well being as well as your own, maybe never to be able to return to Russia. It’s a big ask for the players to ask them this.”

Kafelnikov – why hold Russian athletes hostage?

Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov agrees that Wimbledon has gone too far. He points out the the players themselves are for peace.

“Of course it’s very tragic, what’s happening in the world,” the former world No 1 told the New York Times. “I’m totally shocked with what is going on, but to hold hostage people like Medvedev, Rublev and Pavlyuchenkova, I think it’s wrong. And knowing what kind of position they took before when this all started, I think Wimbledon is making a mistake on this one. They’ve gone a bit too far.”

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