by Paul Embery
Thursday, 21
April 2022
Debate
11:56

Banning Russian players from Wimbledon is morally wrong

It's unfair to make citizens pay for the crimes of their nation’s rulers
by Paul Embery
World no.2 Daniil Medvedev has been banned from competing at Wimbledon this year. Credit: Getty

The news that the All England Club has barred Russian and Belarussian players from competing at this year’s Wimbledon tennis championships comes as no great surprise. Not because the decision was in any way wise or ethical; but simply because it is the latest in a series of decrees by bodies and institutions apparently so determined to parade their virtue on the Ukraine crisis that they are even prepared to go to the lengths of making innocent Russian and Belarussian citizens pay for the crimes of their nation’s rulers.

The absurdity of some of these sanctions has been such that one could be forgiven for assuming the stories were made up. There was the decision of the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra to remove the works of Tchaikovsky from one of its concerts; the university in Milan which cancelled a course on Dostoevsky (the decision was later reversed); authorities in Canada who pulled vodka and other Russian products from the shelves of local shops; the opera which banned a Russian soprano because she wouldn’t submit to its demand that she issue a statement condemning Putin; the orchestra which scrapped a performance by a Russian piano prodigy. The list goes on. Even a primary school in Warrington got in on the act, terminating lessons on Russian culture.

It is hard to see any rationale for these displays of prejudice other than a desire by those responsible for them to be seen, in a conflict which has increasingly come to be viewed as a battle of all-good versus all-evil, as on the side of the angels. But when was it ever acceptable to so directly punish ordinary citizens for the actions of their government? And why, if it’s acceptable to make Russians and Belarusians suffer in this way, do we not apply the principle to the passport holders of other countries whose ruling regimes commit serious violations in the way of international law and human rights?

Some may contend that it is right to ban individual sports competitors or teams where they are explicitly representing the nation at the centre of the storm. That is certainly an arguable point (and would be the defence to the decision to ban Russia from the World Cup). But that doesn’t apply at Wimbledon. Were he to be allowed to take part, current world number two Daniil Medvedev would not be competing for Russia; he would be an individual competitor who happened to be Russian. That seems to me to constitute a significant difference.

Will the All England Club get away with the ban? Well, leading figures from the sport have already spoken out against it, as have its international ruling bodies. Meanwhile, appearing on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, arbitration and sports lawyer Duncan Bagshaw argued that the decision potentially constitutes a breach of the Equality Act, which makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of race (which, for the purposes of the Act, includes nationality).

Whether or not the ban proves in the end to be unlawful, we will have to wait and see. That it is morally wrong is surely beyond question.

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Alyona Song
Alyona Song
5 months ago

Well put. Thank you Paul. Having voices of sobriety is very important in the current atmosphere of frenzied virtue signaling. Unfortunately, too often innocent people are made pay for the deeds of those in power.

perfessa
perfessa
5 months ago

All of the other professional tennis players need to threaten to boycott Wimbledon. That would end the ban in 5 minutes.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
5 months ago
Reply to  perfessa

Or even better, actually boycott it. Then we could have two weeks peace from fatuous commentary and tennis “expert” opinions

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
5 months ago

There is a lot of generalising in this piece. The decision of the Cardiff Philharmonic to drop the Tchaikovsky items was one taken by the members of the orchestra who did not feel comfortable with the crude triumphalism of the 1812 Overture when Ukraine was being pounded with ordnance. The Soprano you mention (Netrebko) is not just a Russian Opera Singer but one who has benefited substantially from Putin’s patronage (as has the conductor Valiery Gergiev, who has also had his contracts curtailed but has not made a fuss). During the ban on playing in South Africa during the Apartheid era plenty of cricketers would say “its not fair, we aren’t interested in politics, we just want to play our cricket”. But life does not, unfortunately compartmentalise as much as we would like and people have to realise that decisions have consequences.

Warren T
Warren T
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Consequences of being born in Russia?

David Bell
David Bell
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Mind your manners. We expect a higher standard on Unherd. Besides, he has raised some interesting points.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Not worthy of Unherd.

Maria Rowe
Maria Rowe
5 months ago

But Russians need a wake up call, that they are individually responsible for the regime they have created. I lived in communist Poland and the difference between the Russians and the Poles in their attitude to communism was vast: the Poles knew perfectly well what rubbish the system was. There were hardly any Poles who truly believed in it, whereas the Russians in the great majority really believed their country was the best in the world (in spite of the harsh reality). It seems not much has changed (apart from the Moscovites and people from bigger cities). The bans will have to start biting them individually, the same with Russian mothers who should demand Putin’s responsibility for their sons’ deaths in this cruel war. (This is what, apparently happened with the war in Afganistan, and which contributed to the fall of communism in Russia under Gorbachev.

Angelique Todesco-Bond
Angelique Todesco-Bond
5 months ago

I think the terrible ‘thing’, is what is happening to the civilians of Ukraine and I strongly believe that whatever non-violent pressure can be exerted to stop it, must be exerted. The more Russian citizens who are ‘inconvenienced’ will hopefully lead more to voice their dissent, the more dissent, hopefully the more likely something will be done to stop what is happening. In my view, a disenchanted sportsperson is nothing compared to a child killed, a woman raped, a man shot in the back of the head.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
5 months ago

Well, either Russia s a dictatorship, which implies the voters dont have much say, or it is democratic, in which case we should discriminate against the Duma and government ministers. The voters will have to wait till the next election..

Warren T
Warren T
5 months ago

It is a terrible thing indeed! But the people of Russia do not have a say. They can’t voice their dissent unless they wish to spend time in the gulag. You should kiss the ground of where you live if you have a voice because they don’t. That’s what totalitarianism looks like.
But persecuting individuals simply for being born somewhere is equally terrible.
America welcomed my German grandfather as a citizen after WWI and he joined the U.S. army during WWII. We should never persecute innocent individuals because of their color or national heritage.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
5 months ago

“It’s unfair to make citizens pay for the crimes of their nation’s rulers” – erm, isn’t that what warfare has alwats entailed since time immemorial?

It’s not exactly “fair” either that Ukrainian players can’t compete because they are fighting to ensure their family isn’t raped and killed by a band of Chechen savages.

Last edited 5 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago

Yes, there is one dead Invictus athlete from Ukraine who couldn’t make it to the games as a result of Russian violence.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago

I agree. No need to target individual Russian players. The Davis Cup? We can talk again.

Last edited 5 months ago by Lesley van Reenen
perfessa
perfessa
5 months ago

There is no question that this morally wrong, “crazy”(to quote Djokovic) and I could go on with more adjectives. It makes my blood boil. I say this as an avid tennis player and follower of the sport. As a human being, no person should be punished for the actions of his government; Putin is immoral and crazy. I hope that tennis organizations and players get together to put pressure on the members of the ALL ENGLAND CLUB. This is a very dangerous and disrespectful decision to the sport, the players and not to mention putting a smile on Putin’s face.

Last edited 5 months ago by perfessa
Andrew Sweeney
Andrew Sweeney
5 months ago

The needs of the individual or the needs of the group. In this case I will go with the group because I think Russia is a great danger and Russian people must take some group responsibility.

William Cameron
William Cameron
5 months ago

That legal advice is wrong. It is perfectly legal to discriminate against hostile states and their people when they are committing war crimes.
If of course the Russian Tennis players publicly spoke against the war and its leadership that would be fine.

Last edited 5 months ago by William Cameron
Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
5 months ago

Well, we didnt discriminate against Ukraine when it was murdering civilians with impunity in the Donbass region? Nor have we discriminate against Saudi Arabia over Yemen, etc,etc.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
5 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Good old KGB whataboutism .

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago

And apposite.

Philip L
Philip L
5 months ago

It provided some useful context and showcases the frankly bonkers levels of hypocrisy here.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
5 months ago

Sad thoughts of Myra Hess playing great German and Austrian piano music in the Wigmore Hall during WW2. And we were at war with Germany!

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago

Hi Rock! Let me introduce you to Hard Place. No doubt you guys will figure out a compromise based on the best outcome.
in retrospect, should the British team have attended the 36 Olympics aggrandising Hitler’s Germany as he started his pogrom of the Jews? Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions that may not be fair on those affected.

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
5 months ago

The National Mustard Museum in Middleton, WI removed Russian mustards from its displays.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
5 months ago
Reply to  Karl Schuldes

The Collective Russian fudge flavoured yoghurt is now merely fudge flavoured!

Graham Ward
Graham Ward
5 months ago

A fair set of points, but would it be the same if Medvedev and others followed the example of the gymnast recently?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago

Scanning comments here, I certainly hope that the people here speaking as individuals will bear responsibility for the actions of their governments and be prepared to be be sanctioned and discriminated against. Warmongering Americans and Brits in the main. I don’t care who you vote for, you are all equally responsible.

Warren T
Warren T
5 months ago

I agree with you mostly, but when has America last sought to conquer another country?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
5 months ago

In that case shall we hold you responsible for the crimes committed during apartheid?

David McDowell
David McDowell
5 months ago

It was morally right when we did it to South African players and it’s morally right that we do it to Russian etc players now. How could the author, someone I usually admire, not recognize the South African parallel in his article?
Citing the equality act smacks of desperation. The higher courts in this country are bent and politically motivated, and would go along with the ban. For once I would agree with them.

Last edited 5 months ago by David McDowell
Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
5 months ago
Reply to  David McDowell

Agree that SA ban was the precedent. You could argue that it was subverted by allowing citizens of equally – or worse – regimes to compete at the time.
SA was nominally a democracy, as has Russia been for 30 years. If you didn’t like the regime, you could defect, like Navratilova. Russian sportsmen and women can do the same.

David Bell
David Bell
5 months ago

The WTA recently boycotted women’s tennis tournaments in China in protest at Beijing’s treatment of its top player. It has hypocritically joined the chorus against Wimbledon.

Jeffrey Chongsathien
Jeffrey Chongsathien
5 months ago

It’s just naked bigotry.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
5 months ago

This is unfair individually but Russia, like China, uses sport as part of the maskirovska propaganda machine. All countries use sport you say? Like much of this issue it’s relative. Imagine UK Athletics as an arm of the Conservative Party. Exactly- it’s absurd whereas in Russia it’s a part of Putin’s deranged greater Russia pan slavic project. Meanwhile the daily we’re going to bomb you until you become Russian project continues.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
5 months ago

In the old days a private club (that is, one entirely free of political connections with the State), could deny entry to absolutely anyone they cared to (women, men, people with green hair, foreigners, different religions, etc. etc.) and no-one at all thought this to be unjust. This long-standing freedom has already been attacked over the years, and the current dispute is just one more flail in that direction. ‘Freedom of association’ is a prime ‘conservative’ component and a more general essential human freedom.
If the State tried to ban these Russians from entering the country, that would be a completely different issue.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
5 months ago

Football has long banned expressions of political views. Until that is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after which it has become almost compulsory to demonstrate support for Ukraine. Hopefully this new spirit of demonstrating against injustice will extend to the Qatar World Cup.

John Tyler
John Tyler
5 months ago

Nobody is ‘targeting’ individuals. The nation of Russia is being boycotted. Those affected are responsible for choosing their leadership, and should they wish to see different leaders with more peaceful policies then they should act accordingly.

John Tyler
John Tyler
5 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

Well that comment went down well!!!

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
5 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

I think hoping or expecting the Russian populace to revolt against Putin, an armed revolt, obviously, is ill thought out. It worked in Ukraine, just about, but led to a very unhappy civil war, with ten or so thousand civilians dead.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Oh well let’s have a nuclear war killing billions instead because they’ve gone along with their crazed leader.

John Tyler
John Tyler
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Blimey! Did I recommend a nuclear war? How careless I am!

John Tyler
John Tyler
5 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

I don’t recall suggesting “armed revolt”. A bit of an overreaction, Anna!

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
5 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

I think the Russian Embassy staff may have voted en bloc!

David Bell
David Bell
5 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

A swarm of Russian bots here.

David Bell
David Bell
5 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

Have an uptick from me!

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
5 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

The elections in Russia are not free in the same way as our elections are (lol). Alexei Navalny dared to questions Putin’s suitability to rule and he was poisoned and then put in prison. The p***y Riot were imprisoned years ago for questioning their own government. It is not so far back in history that any dissenters to communist ideology would be put in a gulag. Do you not see that people are sacred, or even terrified. And yes, individuals are being targeted: the point of the article.

John Tyler
John Tyler
5 months ago
Reply to  Alex Stonor

I never suggested it was easy.

No! Individuals are not “being targeted” , which was the point of my heinous comment. The country is being boycotted, just as SA during apartheid. Unfortunate as it may be for individuals they are paying the price for their country’s choices.